Northampton health officials wrestle with Covid clusters

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2021 10:06:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s health department is tracing some “very large, complex clusters” of COVID-19, department director Merridith O’Leary told the Northampton Board of Health on Thursday evening at its monthly meeting. Many of the cases are related to gatherings between different households, she said.

“We’re trying to identify all those contacts,” O’Leary said. “It’s very, very disappointing that we’re 10, 11 months into this pandemic and people are still congregating at large social gatherings and going about their daily business as if the pandemic is not here.”

She added that there is also a lot of workplace exposure to COVID-19, particularly at restaurants with small kitchens.

Northampton had an average daily incidence rate of 31.1 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks, according to the state Department of Public Health’s weekly COVID-19 report released Thursday.

Northampton is in the yellow, or caution zone, in the report, but many other Hampshire County towns were in the most risky category for COVID-19. Hadley, Hatfield, Granby, Belchertown and Southampton were all labeled red, or at high-risk for COVID-19. Holyoke was also in the highest risk category.

Towns with a population between 10,000 and 50,000 are in the red category if they have 10 or more cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 5% or more. Towns with less than 10,000 people are in the red category if they have more than 25 total cases.

In Hatfield, the percent positivity rate — or the percentage of total tests that were positive for COVID-19 — was 8.21% over the past two weeks, and in that same period, the town saw 30 positive cases, according to Thursday’s report. Some residents have gone to the hospital recently, Kerry Flaherty, the town’s COVID-19 coordinator, told the Select Board Tuesday. “We’ve had some … very sick people,” Flaherty said.

On Thursday, the state also reported 938 new cases of COVID-19 in school districts between Jan. 14 and Jan. 20. In the last week, a few cases were reported in Hampshire County schools, including two student cases in Hadley and one staff member in Granby, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s latest report. In Holyoke Public Schools, there were three cases, one of which was a staff member.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dropped statewide over the past two weeks and the seven-day average death rate also dropped over the last 10 days, but all three metrics are still higher than they were for much of the fall, according to state data.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that the 9:30 p.m. curfew he put in place for many businesses will be lifted Monday.

“These have been long and hard days for everybody, but our hospital system was able to continue to provide medical care for residents,” the State House News Service reported Baker saying. “And today, three weeks into 2021, our public health data is trending in a better direction for some categories like hospitalizations and the percent of positive COVID cases for the first time in a long time.”

Baker also announced that anyone in Phase 1 of the state’s vaccine rollout plan is able to get vaccinated. So far, 359,919 doses of the vaccine have been administered statewide.

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