While the upward climb of COVID-19 cases continues unabated, Barnstable County officials are bringing more resources to bear on the pandemic, thanks to a boost from lawmakers.
Under legislation filed by State Rep. Sarah Peake, D–Provincetown, and State Senator Julian Cyr, D–Truro, the state has absorbed the annual pension liability for retired employees of the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office. Because the estimated $1 million expenditure each year had been funded by the county, the legislation frees up that money for county programs, and the initial focus will be on COVID-19 response, Peake said last week. The county has “really stepped into the breach” in responding to the pandemic, supporting testing and vaccine clinics, regional reporting and procurement of PPEs and other supplies, she noted. The newly available funds will help the county’s “continued efforts ensuring the best COVID-19 response possible for our constituents,” Peake said.
One of the most recent efforts by Barnstable County began Tuesday with the opening of a COVID Help Line, staffed by members of the Cape’s Medical Reserve Corps. Between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, volunteers will answer the lines to answer questions about the virus, testing sites and the vaccine roll-out. The number for the help line is 774-330-3001. On its first day, the help line received a large number of calls from people seeking to be put on a list for the vaccine, but no such system is in place yet, officials say (see related story).
Outer Cape Health Services issued a similar notice this week, with CEO Pat Nadle appealing for patience.
“Many Outer Cape Health Services patients have reached out asking when they will receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” Nadle wrote in an email blast Monday. “We appreciate that so many in our community want to participate in protecting our population at this critical time. And while we are anxious to act, it is essential that we follow the protocols developed by the Commonwealth in making this happen.”
“I know there’s a frustration right now and we’re just hoping that people can be patient,” Barnstable County Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien said last week. When the state releases guidance, it will be shared with the public. “We’re not holding anything back,” he said.
The county is tentatively planning five mass vaccination sites to cover all parts of the Cape, O’Brien said, though details have yet to be released.
Until vaccines are widely available, it’s more critical than ever that Cape Codders wear masks, wash their hands and keep socially distant, O’Brien said. “It is community spread, and it is really important to remember,” he said.
As of the most recent report on Jan. 14, Chatham was reporting 138 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 410 in Harwich and 88 in Orleans. Cape-wide, the case count stood at 6,815, with 46 deaths reported in the last two weeks. A total of 217,409 COVID-19 tests had been administered on the Cape, with about 6.64 percent of them coming back positive in the last two weeks. As of Jan. 14, there were 30 people being treated for COVID-19 at Cape Cod Hospital, eight of whom were in the intensive care unit.
Following an extended holiday hiatus, students in the Monomoy Schools resumed in-person learning last Tuesday, with the exception of three classrooms at Harwich Elementary, which will keep learning remotely through Jan. 27. As of Tuesday, the district was reporting two cases at Harwich Elementary, one at the middle school and none at Chatham Elementary or the high school. The latter is particularly good news; earlier this month, Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter wrote parents to warn about the high number of active cases at the high school.
“Public health officials estimate that the actual number of cases could be even higher due a backlog in testing, reporting, and tracing. We also know that there are many high school students awaiting test results after attending ill-advised teen gatherings around New Year’s,” he wrote. Fortunately, there is no evidence that the virus spread beyond those parties, Carpenter said Tuesday.
The Monomoy Schools have applied to the state for a supply of Abbott BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 tests, which need to be on hand before the district can take part in a broader program of pooled screening tests under a new state program. Once the supplies are in place, students and staff who volunteer to be tested will be given a nasal swab, with samples from groups of 12 to 15 people to be tested together. If any of the groups come back positive, all the individuals in the group will be rapid-tested. The program will not likely be in place until after February break, Carpenter said.
In an update posted Monday, Broad Reach Healthcare CEO Bill Bogdanovich reported that around 350 staff and residents were expected to be vaccinated in the second clinic for Liberty Commons and The Victorian on Tuesday. Regular testing continues in both locations. There have been five deaths attributed to COVID-19 at Liberty Commons since the start of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, after press time, the Chatham board of health planned to meet to consider amending an emergency order related to COVID-19 response. Last year, the health board ordered any restaurants whose employees tested positive to close for 24 hours for deep cleaning and disinfection, and to post notice of the positive test at their entrances, on their websites and on social media accounts for a minimum of 96 hours or until contact tracing is complete. This week, spurred by a cluster of cases at the North Chatham Post Office, the health board will consider expanding those regulations to include all businesses open to the public, including retailers, professional offices and government and postal facilities.
CHATHAM — The story’s the same from health departments, doctors’ offices, fire departments, and most recently, a county informational hot line. People have many, many questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, when they’ll be available for ordinary citizens, and how they’ll be administered. The information is subject to change on a daily basis, so check for updates at mass.gov/vaccine.
Q: When can I be vaccinated?
A: It depends. Front-line COVID-facing health care workers and nursing home staff and residents were first to get shots, and first responders and people living in prisons, group homes and other congregate care settings are being vaccinated now. In the next stage of Phase 1, other health care workers will be vaccinated. In Phase 2, expected to start next month, people will be vaccinated in the following order: people 75 and older or those with two or more comorbidities; teachers, food service, public works and public health employees; then adults 65 or older; then people of any age with one comorbidity. In Phase 3, expected to begin in April, everyone else will be vaccinated.
Q: What’s a comorbidity?
A: It’s a preexisting medical condition that leaves a person more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19. The state uses the list of comorbidities published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Common ones are certain heart conditions, respiratory diseases and cancer.
Q: Can I get on a list to be vaccinated?
A: Not yet. People in Phase 1 were notified through their employers, and there is not yet a sign-up protocol in place for people in Phases 2 and 3. But appointments will likely be necessary for everyone, to help public health officials track who needs a second dose of the vaccine and when they need to get it.
Q: What role will my physician have in determining when I get the vaccine?
A: It’s not yet clear. Public health officials and health care providers are all waiting for guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. That guidance is expected to come soon.
Source: County Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien, Jan. 14, 2021.
Q: I’m a second homeowner spending the winter on the Cape this year. Can I get vaccinated here?
A: Probably yes, but the mechanics are being worked out. Regional leaders are aware of the problem of “stranded snowbirds” and have posed the question to the state. They intend to offer the vaccine to these people here, unless there is specific state guidance prohibiting that. Details will be forthcoming.
Source: State Sen. Julian Cyr, Jan. 14, 2021.
Q: Can I choose which vaccine I get?
A: No. Moderna vaccine doses are often administered in places where super-cold refrigeration is not available, like the ongoing first responder clinic in Orleans. The county and Cape Cod Healthcare have access to the refrigeration needed for the Pfizer vaccine. Both vaccines are safe and effective, according to health officials.
Q: Do I have to get vaccinated?
A: No. But public health officials strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated, since a certain level of immunity is necessary in the community to lessen the risk of infection.
Q: What about side effects of the vaccine?
A: Side effects have been reported by some getting the vaccine, including soreness around the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms. The side effects demonstrate that the drug is working and are not signs of a COVID-19 infection. In rare cases, some people have allergic reactions to the vaccine; for that reason, people are required to stay for 15 minutes after getting the shot for medical observation. In all cases, the risks of side effects are lower than the risk of becoming ill with COVID-19.
Q: When will I get a second dose?
A: The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine comes 21 days after the first; the Moderna second dose comes 28 days later. Recipients will receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it.
Q: Where can I get more information about the vaccine?
A: Use these websites:
www.barnstablecountyhealth.org, or call the Barnstable County COVID help line, 774-330-3001, during business hours