CHATHAM — While COVID-19 case numbers in the Northeast are very low compared to other parts of the country, they are unmistakably climbing.
The two-week case average on Cape Cod has climbed 138 percent compared to 27 percent statewide. Orleans has a 14-day average daily incidence rate of 6.4 per 100,000 residents, lower than it has been in a month, and the lowest rate in Barnstable County. In the same time period, Harwich’s number has climbed to 14.2, with Chatham’s rate climbing to 19.6, up from 7.4 four weeks ago. As of last Thursday, Orleans had reported five new cases in the past two weeks, Chatham had 16 and Harwich had 25.
Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the select board Tuesday that eight new cases were recorded in Chatham in the first six days of September, the same number recorded in the whole month of September last year. Together with a 14-day positivity rate of around 4.42 percent in Chatham, “it looks like we’re heading toward another peak,” he said. When the percent positivity tops 5 percent, an outbreak of a disease is generally considered to be growing unabated.
At least half of the new cases in Chatham this month have come in people who were fully vaccinated. As a result, most reported only mild symptoms. While hospitals are seeing an uptick in COVID admissions regionally, most of those patients are not in the intensive care unit, Duncanson noted.
The Chatham Band, which held an abbreviated season because of the pandemic, canceled what was to be its final concert of the summer last Friday after a member tested positive for the coronavirus. Band Manager Anita Harris said it was a tough decision.
“Given the median age of our band members and the proximity created by the bandstand in Kate Gould Park, we feel this is a responsible reaction to this news,” she wrote in an email last Thursday. “The Chatham Band looks forward to entertaining our wonderful audiences again for Oktoberfest and during the winter holidays depending on what guidelines dictate at that time.”
In an email to supporters late last month, Cape Symphony Executive Director Michael Albaugh announced that all concert attendees will be required to provide proof of vaccination and identification upon arrival. The policy begins with the symphony’s “Victorious Return” concerts on Sept. 11 and 12.
“Taking good care of ourselves and each other means that we can experience the joy of live music together again,” Albaugh wrote.
Statewide, case numbers are growing most quickly among people between the ages of 20 and 39, and public health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated. Despite the concern associated with so-called breakthrough infections, research reported by the New York Times Tuesday suggested that the odds of the average vaccinated person of contracting COVID-19 are around one in 5,000 per day. In areas with higher vaccination rates, like the Northeast, the risk is estimated to be half that, or less.
Getting vaccinated will soon be a requirement for nursing home staff, following a state order that takes effect on Oct. 10. According to data published by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, staff vaccination rates vary widely between facilities. At Liberty Commons nursing home in North Chatham, 98.95 percent of staff have already been vaccinated. The number stands at 84.35 percent at Pleasant Bay Nursing and Rehab in Brewster, and at 72 percent at Regal Care at Harwich. When the state order takes effect, staff will have to provide proof of vaccination or find a different place to work.
At the latter two facilities, the number of residents and patients who’ve been fully vaccinated is higher than the staff rate, with 89.82 percent of residents at Pleasant Bay having gotten their shots, and 94.5 percent of people living at Regal Care at Harwich. At Liberty Commons, 98.33 percent of residents were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 22, just under the staff vaccination level.
Classes resumed in the Monomoy Regional School District this week under a reopening plan that mandates that all students, faculty, staff and visitors wear masks indoors, whether they have been vaccinated or not. The district is reminding students and teachers to check for any signs of illness each morning and to stay home if they have any symptoms. Classrooms will maintain at least three feet of distance between students, and kids are encouraged to take part in routine COVID-19 surveillance testing. All of the district’s buildings have been reviewed to ensure that their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are adequately circulating air.
“In addition, windows will be open whenever possible, and students will be outdoors as feasible,” a school notice reads.
Duncanson said an unfounded rumor has been circulating about a cluster of cases linked to the town’s public works department. While two members of town staff were in proximity to a contractor who tested positive for the coronavirus, they were isolated and tested and the results were negative. “So there is no outbreak in the DPW,” he said.