It has been a few weeks since my last correspondence and I thought I would provide an update of where Holyoke is at as it relates to the pandemic.
To begin, these communications are going to shift away from a direct focus on the metrics. The case counts are so far beyond what was ever expected that it makes the metrics provided by the state difficult to reference in a constructive way.
Holyoke currently has an “Average Daily Incidence Rate per 100,000” of 67.49 and a “Percent Positivity” of 7.34%. Holyoke remains in the Red. This is the worst our metrics have been since this manner of reporting began.
The State average for both of these metrics is 50.00 and 5.25%, respectively. This puts the State (as an entire region) in the Red and may explain the timing of the Governor’s recent updates to the reopening plan. It is also the worst the state averages have ever been.
The aftermath of Thanksgiving was as bad as predicted and has created a surge of cases that is amplifying an already existing increase. I do not expect any improvement over the Holidays as people continue to gather.
1.) The entire State is shifting back to Phase 3, Step 1, effective this weekend. The Governor made several modifications to the original Phase 3, Step 1 guidelines to make them more restrictive. You will find the Governor’s order here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-order-58/download
Holyoke has been in Phase 3, Step 1 since the last week of October, so the only thing that will change in Holyoke is the addition of these modifications.
2.) The Governor has released a schedule and priority list for the COVID-19 Vaccine. More information is available at: https://www.mass.gov/COVIDvaccine
I believe that many people are excited for this news, but I will caution that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not have FDA approval as of today, and will not be distributed until they do. It’s going to take several months for the vaccination process to be completed. I expect that most healthy adults not involved in specialized industries (such as healthcare, first response, education, or energy) will not see a vaccine until April. Senior citizens and residents with co-morbidities will be prioritized. A schedule is available at link above.
3.) Holyoke has been guaranteed a Stop the Spread testing site until 3/31/21.
This is great news. Additionally, several new testing sites will be opening in neighboring counties by the end of December. I would expect lower volume and shorter wait times after January 1st.
This last section is where I’m going to discuss some of the uncomfortable realities of our current predicament.
This past week there were several days where 3,000 Americans died per day of COVID-19 or complications related to the virus. That’s about 2 Americans dying each minute of the day. To make matters worse, the CDC is predicting many more days with a similar or higher death toll.
I realize these numbers can be difficult for many people to face or to process as reality. Many are skeptical of these statistics. Conspiracy theorists, in their parent’s basements all across the country, claim that death counts are being falsely inflated. But even if we were to divide that number by 3 and imagine that only 1,000 Americans were dying per day (of this entirely preventable virus) would that justify a continued failure to abide by reasonable restrictions? The issue is now less about people not knowing what to do and more about people choosing to do what they should not.
COVID-19 is spread through interactions. The best way to avoid getting or spreading COVID is to avoid unnecessary interactions. The pandemic is likely worse (in Holyoke, in Massachusetts and in the United States) than it has ever been. I beg you to consider the weight of your individual choices. Every time you make a poor or high risk decision, because you feel like that one decision won’t have any impact, it is compounded by millions of Americans doing and saying the exact same thing.
Your individual behavior sets the tone for others around you. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a supervisor at your job or just one among many, your choices (good or bad) will often be mimicked by those in your sphere of influence. Every time you wear your mask, choose to stay in, or support your local businesses by shopping and ordering food online, you are eliminating an opportunity to spread the virus. You’re also demonstrating that it is possible to live conservatively and mindfully during a time of unprecedented sickness and death. Choose to help instead of harm. Choose to be selfless, instead of selfish.
Finally, please do not allow the eventual availability of vaccines to impact your choices today. In the months that it is going to take for the vaccine to reach all of the Americans who will choose to receive it, there will still be too many opportunities for the unnecessary spread of this virus. And while COVID-19 may never affect many of us in a serious way, it is most definitely affecting (and killing) Americans like few things ever have.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.
Sean Gonsalves, RS
Director of Health
Holyoke Board of Health