Holyoke, Granby at highest risk level for COVID-19, state says

  • Map of average daily incidence rate for COVID-19. SUBMITTED PHOTO/DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2020 8:48:43 PM
Modified: 8/14/2020 8:48:30 PM

HOLYOKE — State health officials on Wednesday designated Holyoke and Granby as being at the highest level of risk for COVID-19 based on average daily case rates over the past two weeks.

A new color-coded, community-by-community COVID-19 tracking map released by the state Department of Public Health and updated every week is designating municipalities with an average daily case rate of more than eight COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks as a red-coded “higher risk” community. Holyoke and Granby — the only two municipalities in western Massachusetts to have this designation — have average daily case rates of 9 and 8.1 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, respectively.

In response to this designation, the city of Holyoke has begun to plan efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to email correspondence this week from Board of Health Director Sean Gonsalves to city officials provided to the Gazette by Mayor Alex Morse’s office. In total, Holyoke has identified 1,029 cases of COVID-19, according to the DPH.

Gonsalves said in one email that the three issues he believes are contributing to Holyoke’s increase in coronavirus case counts is out-of-region travel, coronavirus cases coming out of the Holyoke Mall, and localized outbreaks at the city’s long-term care facilities that continue to occur “one by one.” He noted Holyoke HealthCare Center has having such “localized issues” this month.

In response to this new “higher risk” designation, Gonsalves wrote in another email that the city has begun pursuing opening a “Stop the Spread” testing site — a state program that will provide free COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic people in communities with a higher number of residents testing positive for the disease. The board of health received $21,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding for face mask distribution as well, he said.

“Expect to see at least one, but hopefully two, Stop the Spread test sites in Holyoke in the very near future,” Gonsalves wrote in an email to the Gazette.

In addition, Gonsalves told city officials that the city will work to clarify the local Board of Health’s responsibilities in regard to enforcing Gov. Charlie Baker’s travel order, as well as with restaurants to see where improvements can be made to reduce COVID-19 transmission. The city will also continue to work with the Holyoke Mall and possibly engage the city’s police department in enforcing an order mandating face masks, and with the school department to review metrics, he wrote.

“It is our feeling that the Red designation is caused by an isolated spike from a COVID cluster at a LTC (long-term care) facility in Holyoke,” Gonsalves wrote. “We will continue to pursue these plans even if our designation is reduced in the coming weeks.”

In an email to the Gazette, Gonsalves said Holyoke residents should be concerned about COVID-19 regardless of the city’s designation on a DPH map.

“These metrics are so dependent on a variety of factors that I think it is difficult to rely on them as a primary indicator of progress in stopping the spread,” he said.

Other local communities are also listed on the color-coded tracking map, such as Easthampton, Northampton and South Hadley, which have a yellow “moderate risk” designation for having an average daily case rate of four to eight COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Easthampton’s rate is four, Northampton’s rate is 4.4 and South Hadley’s is 6.3.

Additionally, Amherst and Belchertown were listed on the map as green “lower risk” communities for having an average daily case rate of less than four COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. Amherst’s rate is 2.1 and Belchertown’s rate is 3.1. Communities color-coded “white” have had less than five cases recorded in the past 14 days.

Easthampton Health Agent Bri Eichstaedt said that being in the “moderate risk” category does worry her, as she has been more concerned lately with people becoming more relaxed with mask orders and having large gatherings. She said the city’s Board of Health will be meeting Monday to discuss a mask order for downtown areas.

Eichstaedt said that the new color-coded COVID-19 tracking map is a good tool for community members to see how their town or city is doing in regard to new COVID-19 cases.

“We are nowhere near being done with this,” Eichstaedt said.

In Massachusetts as of Thursday, a total of 113,517 people are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, according to a daily report released by the DPH. In its weekly Wednesday report, state health officials reported 1,070 total confirmed cases in Hampshire County and 73 new confirmed cases within the past two weeks — which the state reported as an increase compared to the previous two weeks surveyed.

In Hampshire County as of Aug. 12, Northampton had a cumulative total of 307 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up from 304 on Aug. 5; South Hadley had 188, up from 176; Belchertown had 127, up from 125; Amherst had 118, up from 115; Easthampton had 108, up from 100; Hadley had 45, no change; Southampton stayed at 33; Granby had 40, up from 38; Hatfield 19, no increase; Huntington 14, no increase; Williamsburg 14, up from 13; Westhampton five, no increase; and Goshen at five, up from having fewer than five cases.

Plainfield, Cummington, Chesterfield and Pelham once again reported fewer than five cases, while Worthington and Middlefield have stayed at zero cases.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.

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