It has been a couple of weeks since my last email and there have been some significant developments as it pertains to the COVID-19 virus and the Government. Some good news and some bad news, much like the topics in this email.
Notices have gone out in the community about a Serology Study involving the residents of Holyoke. This study will be conducted by Harvard and Mass General Hospital, in partnership with the Holyoke Board of Health. If you got one of these notices, congratulations! You were one of about 2,000 households randomly selected in Holyoke to participate. If you have questions about your notice, you can call our office at 413-322-5595 and ask for extension 5069. We are very excited about this project and look forward to your participation. In short, our goal is to measure the saturation of COVID-19 in Holyoke and to ascertain how it affected the community. This will be done by asking randomly selected households to fill out a survey and submit some samples for analysis.
Th election is over as far as individual voters are involved and I am happy to see it. As valuable as the democratic process is, the gatherings, celebrations, protests and meetings that are part of the process only create additional opportunities for transmission of the virus. To that end, things are worse now than than they have been since the peak of the pandemic in the United States in terms of case counts, hospitalizations and expectations for the immediate future.
There were 160,000 new cases in the US yesterday, 11/12/2020. The US has had more than a week of consecutive days with 100,000+ new cases. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 climbed to 67, 096 nationwide (that’s people actively in the hospital due to COVID-19). The Governor, Charlie Baker, just announced that field hospitals would be reopening in Massachusetts in anticipation of overrun of ICU beds in the coming months.
I believe that you will see many colleges and schools return to primarily remote learning over the next month. Contact tracing for several thousand students at a facility or across a school district is extremely resource intensive. Even one positive case can create hours of work and dozens of phone calls. Every classroom, school bus and after school program has to be monitored and accounted for. There is a lot of strain on Public Health nurses right now.
There has been some positive news about a possible Pfizer vaccine. A vaccine would make a world of difference in our ability to control the virus and return to normal. But even if a vaccine is found, production and distribution will likely take months to reach the majority of Americans. So, there is still a need enforce and abide by COVID restrictions.
Meanwhile, every county in Massachusetts saw an increase in case counts this last week. The State’s new way of interpreting the COVID-19 metrics is an attempt to “update” the standards that were initially put into place when the color coded system was introduced. Unfortunately, it also means that those initial standards are no longer realistic throughout Massachusetts. We are “moving the goalposts” so to speak, because efforts to contain the virus thus far have been ineffective. So while you may see fewer communities in the Red, the situation has not improved.
In any case, Holyoke is in the Red. There is going to have to be a considerable shift in the way people conduct their day-to-day activities if we expect to see any change. While I hate to hold individual community members accountable for a global disaster such as COVID-19, individual activities do contribute to the duration and intensity of the spread. I believe that Halloween parties and gatherings contributed significantly to the surge in cases in the last week. Once a member of a household contracts COVID at a party, they bring it home to the rest of their family. Despite this, people continue to host and attend parties. The Thanksgiving holiday is only going to amplify the ongoing surge.
Please choose to be safe. Easy ways to be safe: Avoid crowds, avoid bars and restaurants during the peak hours of operation, consider getting a flu shot, get tested even if you don’t have symptoms, wear a mask and avoid carpooling with people outside of your household.
If you don’t feel good, even if you “aren’t sure,” get tested and stay home (if at all possible) until you get your results back. Please don’t send sick children to school or daycare.
One last note. Please be patient at the HCC test site. We realize the lines are getting extremely long. The issue is a lack of testing facilities in other communities. The HCC site was never set up to test 500 or 600 people in 4 or 5 hours. The City and HCC are doing our best to provide a reliable, free test site for people to make use of. But at some point, the volume of cars is going to surpass the capacity of the site. Another community is going to need to step up and shoulder part of the burden, as Holyoke’s two test sites are the go-to location for most residents of Hampden, Hampshire and parts of Berkshire county. This issue has been communicated to the State.
Stay safe! As always, feel free to contact me with questions directly.
Sean Gonsalves, RS
Director of Health
Holyoke Board of Health