Local COVID-19 case numbers a reason for optimism

  • Heather Craig sits at the Pulaski Park bus stop after picking up her meal from Manna on Monday, April 20. She had not left her house for three weeks and wore her mask as much as possible to keep others as well as herself safe on a city bus. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2020 4:42:58 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Hampshire County communities individually reported little to no increase in COVID-19 cases this week, which one health expert says is reason for optimism, while also emphasizing that people should continue to take precautions to protect themselves and others.

“Especially as things continue to reopen, it is very important to pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done,” Northampton Public Health Nurse Jenny Meyer said. “But also, if we decide to just rip the masks off our faces, run around and breathe deeply on everyone we can find, then this is all for naught.”

In Hampshire County, all cities and towns reported confirmed new cases in the single digits or no new cases between June 9 and June 16 for a total of 25 new cases, according to the most recently released figures from the Department of Public Health. Since the state began tracking cases, there have been 941 cases reported in the county.

Northampton had 271, up from 269; South Hadley 142, with no rise from the previous week; Belchertown 101, up from 100; Amherst 93, up from 91; Easthampton 82, up from 80; Hadley 42, with no rise from the previous week; Southampton 30, up from 29; Granby 28, with no rise from the previous week; and Hatfield 17, up from 16. Also reporting no new cases were Huntington, which reported 14 cases overall; Williamsburg with 10; and Westhampton with five.

Plainfield, Cummington, Goshen, Chesterfield and Pelham reported fewer than five cases, and Worthington and Middlefield reported zero cases.

Holyoke reported 899 new cases, up 22 from 877 the previous week, but the number of confirmed new cases in the city decreased from data reported two weeks earlier. Between June 2 and June 9, the number of cases in Holyoke rose by 35, from 842 to 877, according to DPH figures.

In Northampton, 1.7% of confirmed cases are active, while the remaining 98.3% have resolved, according to Meyer. Easthampton and the hilltowns have seen similar active versus recovered rates, according to Meyer, who also oversees COVID-19 tracking in these communities.

Meyer said the lower number of cases could be attributed to better mitigation strategies of COVID-19 in health care settings and among other vulnerable individuals, such as those in nursing homes — where many cases in the first wave occurred — and vigilant social distancing by the community.

But, she added, the numbers may not reflect people with milder cases who do not know how to get tested, or who choose not to get tested.

In general, Meyer said, the key measures for preventing the spread of the virus are wearing a face mask and being outside.

When weighing the risk of infection, three factors play into every interaction, Meyer said: distance from another person; the duration of that interaction; and the ventilation and air circulation in the area of the interaction. The more spaced apart people are, the shorter the interaction and the more open and ventilated the area is, the better.

For example, she said, if people go out to eat at restaurants, they should choose outdoor seating when possible, even once restaurants are allowed to reopen indoor seating areas.

Going forward, people will be faced with a number of such decisions.

“From a public health perspective, I think we would all want to stay at home, don’t leave, do everything we would do under quarantine, but we know that’s not realistic,” Meyer said. “So everyone needs to start thinking of things in terms of acceptable risk to themselves and others.”

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