While more and more people are getting COVID-19 vaccinations each day, Barnstable County is still struggling with a surge of cases linked to the Mid Cape.
The county’s 14-day incidence rate, expressed as cases per 100,000 people, stands at 40.2, pushed high by the town of Barnstable’s rate of 78.5 cases. On the Lower Cape, the rate stands at 27 cases per 100,000 in Chatham, 31.8 cases in Harwich and 22.9 cases in Orleans, based on April 1 data.
Barnstable County had been reporting around 100 new COVID-19 cases per day, creating a discernible climb in the weekly case chart, but in recent days the number has been less than 50. While the Cape’s 14-day incidence rate has been leveling off, it is leveling off at a higher level than officials would like. In the last two weeks, 18 Barnstable County residents have died from COVID-19.
“We need to continue vigilance here,” said State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, speaking on behalf of the Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force last week. Public health officials say it will be another week or two before it’s known whether another spike in cases was caused by the Easter and Passover holidays. “This is the time when people traditionally get together,” he said. “We really want the public to think long and hard about these gatherings, particularly indoor gatherings,” Cyr said.
While the surge in the Mid Cape hasn’t been definitively linked to the appearance of the P.1 variant first detected in Massachusetts in a Barnstable resident, there is data showing that the more-contagious variant is spreading locally.
“The Cape currently accounts for about 88 percent of the P.1 cases in the commonwealth,” Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the health board Monday. And given that only about 1.5 percent of PCR tests are subjected to genetic sequence testing to identify the variants, “that is probably an under-count” he said.
Another trend is emerging as younger people account for an increasing percentage of new cases. Of the new cases in Chatham, many are occurring in people 50 years of age and younger, Duncanson said. “That has continued since last week,” he said. The figures are consistent with national trends, which may be a result of the increasing numbers of seniors who’ve been vaccinated.
“Young people need to get vaccinated,” Chatham Health Board member Richard Edwards said.
Young people who become infected are less likely to become seriously ill, Duncanson noted.
“I don’t want to say they think they’re immune,” he said, but younger people know that if they contract the virus, they are likely to experience less severe symptoms. For that reason, “they tend not to do the things that they should be doing” to prevent the spread of the disease, Duncanson said.
As of April 1, the Monomoy Regional School District reported two COVID-19 cases each in three of its schools.
“The good news about the pace of vaccinations has been juxtaposed in the past few days with worry when a member of our staff needed to be hospitalized due to complications with COVID-19 (a first during this pandemic),” Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter wrote in an update to parents. “Welcome news that the staff member was released from the hospital was then followed by extreme sadness upon hearing of the death of one of our students’ parents due to COVID. Our hearts go out to that family and all those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.”
Vaccine eligibility was expanded this week to include people 55 years of age and older or who have at least one of a list of preexisting medical conditions. That list of co-morbidities has been expanded to include people who are overweight and those who have Type 1 or 2 diabetes. On April 19, eligibility will be opened to all people 16 and older.
With camera shutters clicking, Gov. Charlie Baker received his vaccine Tuesday afternoon at the Hynes Convention Center. “The process was quick and easy and I feel fine,” he said at the news conference that followed. Baker urged people to continue social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings of people, and “when it is your turn, go get vaccinated.”
The Cape Cod Vaccine Consortium is holding three clinics this week, and all available appointments were claimed within 45 minutes of being posted last Friday. Three more clinics will take place next week, two at Cape Cod Community College and one at the Orleans DPW building, with registration expected to open Friday.
While the county is receiving more doses from the state than it did initially, more doses are also flowing to community health centers and private pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. Duncanson said he advises people seeking a vaccine appointment to try their pharmacy’s website.
“People have had very good luck booking appointments there,” he said. Unlike the state’s system, which only allows registrants to book one appointment at a time, the CVS and Walgreens sites allow those receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to book their second appointment at the time they reserve their first dose. Duncanson said it appears that Walgreens updates their appointments around 7 a.m. and also in the early evening; the CVS website indicates that new appointments are posted as they become available.
Outer Cape Health Services is also collaborating with Lower Cape towns on various vaccine clinics for special groups of people. The effort to vaccine home-bound elders continues, and there may also be a clinic established for people in the food service industry. Duncanson said a clinic may be held at Chatham Bars Inn if there is enough demand among employees there.
“Those things are all underway,” he said.