Harwich Facing Major Surge In COVID-19 Cases

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Politics , Health , Harwich , COVID-19

A sign of the times. The sign outside Harwich Town Hall states a serious need in this community. “Face Coverings Required.” WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

Gov. Baker Rolls Back Reopening


HARWICH — There has been a surge in COVID-19 cases in Harwich and across the Cape, which has forced the town to reevaluate work protocols for town employees.


“As of Nov. 30, the town has been operating under Step Two model,” Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers told selectmen Monday night, referring to the second step of the town’s pandemic work plan.


On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced plans to roll back a different plan – the state’s economic reopening plan – to Phase Three, Step One, which restricts business and office capacity and outdoor gatherings. In light of a surge in cases after Thanksgiving, Baker said the goal of the rollback is to preserve capacity in the state’s hospitals (see related story).


The town has had a major jump in COVID-19 cases, Health Director Meggan Eldredge reported this week. In the report Eldredge provided selectmen on Friday, she stated there were 30 new cases in town over the past 14 days and they are following 15 active cases. Between Friday and Eldredge’s report to selectmen on Monday night the health director reported 10 additional active cases.


The town took steps to close the cultural center last week, Eldredge said, after being notified a tenant there tested positive. Eldredge said there were two close calls with town employees.


Harwich has moved to the “yellow” category on the commonwealth’s incidence map with a 3.82 positivity rate and Eldredge said if that rate goes to 5.0 they would be in the “red” category, requiring additional roll backs to abate the spread of the virus.


“As we progress into the second surge of COVID-19 cases, it is time to re-evaluate our work models. The town of Harwich is currently experiencing community spread of the virus with evidence of it infiltrating various aspects of our daily lives. Cases are apparent in school settings, private business settings, our long term care facility and recently inside a town building,” Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers wrote in a memo to selectmen Monday night.


Eldredge said there have been cases in long term care facilities in surrounding areas, but only one employee, and no residents, in Harwich facilities tested positive over the past two weeks. That employee has recovered, Eldredge said.


Tracing has revealed the majority of the virus cases stems from household contact, gatherings and sleep-overs, Eldredge said. Her department has seen households with three, four and five people infected. The demographic showing most of the infections are in the 20-to-39-year-old age group.


“But we are seeing instances of grandparents getting it from kids who have traveled,” Eldredge said.


The message presented to selectmen Monday night was clear. There is a surge taking place in Harwich and across the Cape and steps are being taken to separate town employees in the work setting by initiating remote working options for the majority of the staff while maintaining all public services.


Powers informed selectmen he has employed the town’s Step 2 hybrid work model for town employees. So far, he said, it is going well. Employees have been able to go into the office and get their work and take it home. There are several departments which will retain more staff on premise to provide essential services. Those departments include council on aging, recreation, police, fire and water, Power said.


Powers praised the comprehensive work Eldredge and her staff have done throughout this process while focusing an emphasis on maintaining functional operations.


“I’ve personally spoken to all the department heads impacted by this plan and feel confident that productivity and continuity of operations will be achieved during Step 2 of this work plan” Powers informed selectmen.


The plan does call for one person to be in each of the offices under this model so the public can continue to have access to services. The plan allows the public to continue to book appointments for in-person needs, but recommends such appointments only when services cannot be addressed by phone, email or a virtual meeting. Brooks Free Library has also instituted new access provisions.


“In light of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks along with the expected increases in the coming weeks due to holiday gatherings, Brooks Free Library is reducing time limit for patrons during inside hours from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. Patrons are able to stop in to pick up holds and to quickly browse the shelves and check out their selections,” Library Director Ginny Hewitt stated this week.


The number of cases in Harwich since the start of the pandemic has climbed to 229 as of Monday.