On Monday, one day after alerting parents to a positive COVID-19 case at Monomoy Middle School, Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter sent a second email announcing another case at Harwich Elementary.
“Based on what has been shared with the school from both the family and public health officials, the student was not in the building while infectious, and we do not need to quarantine any classrooms,” Carpenter said. “Making informed decisions like this is only possible with transparent communication between home and school.”
Public health officials were able to determine exactly when the individual was exposed to the virus and that it occurred outside of school, and concluded that the child was not in school during the virus’ infectious period. The student is not showing symptoms of illness, and their close contacts are quarantining.
“This won’t be our last reported case, and I’m grateful for everything families are doing to help prevent the spread in our school community,” Carpenter said.
The day before, he announced the case at the middle school, saying all students and staff in the cohort with the positive individual had already been contacted. All will be learning remotely and quarantining for 14 days from their last contact with the positive individual. The district is following its plan, which involves sanitizing the school, informing families whose students were at risk of exposure, “and supporting the affected family as they navigate this stressful experience.”
Carpenter urged parents to watch their children closely. “As the coronavirus may present with very mild cold or allergy-like symptoms, please continue to monitor your child for any symptoms and contact the school nurse if any symptoms arise,” he wrote.
In the most recent reports to the state, Chatham had 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with five in the past two weeks; Harwich reported 202 cases with 14 in the last two weeks; and Orleans’ total case count was 27, with fewer than five in the last 14 days. As of Monday, Barnstable County had a cumulative total of 3,047 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 192 confirmed and probable deaths.
Last month, three residents of Liberty Commons tested positive for COVID-19, in the wake of a visit to the nursing home by a state inspector who later tested positive for the coronavirus. Throughout last month, Liberty Commons conducted extensive testing, and the three asymptomatic residents who tested positive were isolated with a dedicated nursing staff. Since that time, all three have tested negative multiple times, and now that 14 days without a positive test have passed, the nursing home is standing down its enhanced response protocols, CEO Bill Bogdanovich said.
“This also means that Liberty Commons’ indoor social visitation appointments will also resumed. Beauty salon services and other social elements impacted during the COVID response plan will were also able to return to their previous levels,” he said.
“There were too many heroes in all this to mention anyone individually, but we once again saw that the limits of people’s willingness to just do ‘whatever it takes’ were redefined once again,” Bogdanovich said in his weekly update to families, staff and residents. Liberty Commons and the Victorian will continue frequent COVID testing for all employees, and will soon have the capacity to test all visitors before their scheduled visits, he added.
“Testing at these levels may yield asymptomatic positive resident cases that we would not have otherwise known, but our ability to effectively respond will only be improved when we are armed with timely information,” he said. “We look forward to the relief that the availability of an effective vaccine will present, and are already enrolled in the necessary programs to have it available as a first priority when distribution begins.”
Despite official warnings to avoid doing so, many people traveled to visit with family for the Thanksgiving holiday last week, and public health officials expect an increase in cases in the next two weeks as a result. Anticipating that surge, Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith has asked department heads to develop plans to help their employees work more safely over the holidays, possibly expanding work-at-home opportunities for some staff. The change will likely go unnoticed by the public, she said. While the town has been offering citizens limited in-person appointments with town staff, that practice has been suspended for at least two weeks, she said. As of this week, the town has restarted the PARK child care program at the community center, which had been suspended after a staff member tested positive.
In order to stem community spread of the virus on Cape Cod, local public health officials have urged for the increased availability of so-called “low barrier” COVID testing for people who are not showing symptoms but believe they may have been exposed. Along with Berkshire County, Barnstable County has been identified as a “testing desert” in this regard, where it is very difficult or prohibitively expensive to get such a test. Speaking for the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force, State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, has repeatedly called for the release of state funds for that purpose. On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker was asked about the matter, and said the state is reviewing the way test sites are distributed, “given the changing nature of where cases have gone around the Commonwealth.” So far, test sites have been largely focused in communities where the largest number of cases had been reported, he said. Unlike the pop-up testing centers that were established in the spring, new test sites must be able to function in winter weather, Baker added.
While much of the spread of COVID-19 has been attributed to small informal gatherings, public health officials have identified 36 clusters related to houses of worship, linked to 316 confirmed cases in 48 different cities and towns. In one case, more than 200 positive cases were linked to a cluster, “and those 200 individuals went off into their own daily routines” and spread the virus to others, Baker said Tuesday. With Christmas approaching, the governor urged people to be aware of the risk of indoor church services and the informal gatherings that follow.
“I get that after 10 months of fear and anxiety and tragedy and sacrifice and uncertainty, as we head into the holiday season, the one place most people want to be – for very good reason – is with their family, participating in many of those rituals which involve formal and in some cases informal gatherings that we all love so much,” Baker said. People who choose to do so must wear a mask and encourage others to do the same, to keep their distance, to wash their hands, and to avoid sharing food and beverages.
“Treat it a little more formally than you might normally,” he said.