COVID-19 Cases Surge, Child Care Program Shuttered

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19


CHATHAM — After a community center staff member tested positive for COVID-19, town officials announced that the PARK after school childcare program will be shut down until Nov. 30. As of early this week, there was no indication that any of the children in the program had contracted the illness, but parents had been warned to watch their youngsters for symptoms.

Last Friday, town officials learned that the community center employee might have been exposed to the virus, and officials canceled the program for the remainder of the day to allow deep cleaning. On Monday, the town was notified that the employee had tested positive for COVID-19, and the closure of the childcare program was extended by two weeks. The employee is quarantining, as are the other employees of the community center and the PARK program who were deemed to have had close contact with the individual. The children in the program were not designated close contacts, meaning they did not spend 15 minutes or more within six feet of the infected person in a 24-hour period.

“While interaction of PARK attendees and the employee was minimal, parents are advised to closely watch their children for any symptoms of COVID-19. Parents with any concerns should reach out to their primary care physician,” a town notice reads.

“None of the students met the criteria for close contact,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the health board Monday. But acknowledging that Monomoy Community Services operates child care services nearby, and that some of the PARK children have siblings in the Monomoy public schools, the town notified both MCS and the school district about the positive test.

“At this point we hope we have it under control and it doesn’t get any bigger,” said Duncanson. The PARK program follows all COVID protocols required by the state licensing agency and recommended by the State Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control, Duncanson said. It has proven to be a lifeline for young families who depend on childcare so they can work.

“It’s unfortunate, because the PARK program was really doing a fantastic job,” he said. The community center remains closed to the general public, and town officials declined requests by other user groups, including pickleball players, who sought to use the gymnasium. That move was designed to provide extra safeguards for PARK, Duncanson said.

“COVID-19 is everywhere,” he said.

With new cases of the illness growing at an almost exponential rate nationwide, public health officials are urging people to redouble their efforts to stem the spread of the illness, particularly during the holidays.

“We’re in a very dangerous phase,” State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, said last week. Community spread of the virus is now happening on Cape Cod, and people need to be vigilant about practicing social distancing, wearing masks, washing their hands and staying home when sick. “What we do now is going to determine how dark of a winter it’s going to be on Cape Cod,” he said.

COVID-19 testing is happening at a much lower rate on Cape Cod than in most other parts of the state, he said, and asymptomatic individuals seeking tests may find them unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

“I do worry that we do not have the testing capacity that we need here to actively respond,” he said.

Containing the virus is also key to keeping the regional economy in operation, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wendy Northcross said at last week’s Cape Cod Reopening Task Force news conference. People on the Cape have generally complied with public health rules, “and that has paid off for us to date, but we know that people are getting tired,” she said. “We’re still very fortunate that we’re not in a shutdown phase, and we’re still trying to avoid that.”

Public health officials are concerned about the spread of the virus in gatherings of extended family during Thanksgiving. Last week, a visibly testy Gov. Charlie Baker said citizens need to understand the significance of their personal roles in stemming the spread of COVID-19 by following the rules. Studies have shown that people’s social circles have actually grown since the spring because people thought the virus was receding, but the statistics show the opposite.

“This desire to get back to something like normal is a big part of what’s driving case growth,” he said. Transmission is, by and large, not happening in stores or schools. “The innocent acts of small gatherings are where COVID is finding its greatest opportunity to spread,” Baker said.

In response, the state is establishing a field hospital at the DCU Center in Worcester, where hospitals are nearing capacity. Additional field hospitals will be opened in other parts of the state as needed.