By Maxim Tamarov
A recent spike in Covid-19 cases has led to calls from town officials for residents to remain vigilant and to practice recommended safety measures.
As of Tuesday, there has been a total of 280 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the Town of Winthrop. So far, 24 people have died, 217 have recovered, and 39 remain in isolation to prevent spread.
In just the last five days however, 23 new cases have been reported. Eight new cases were reported last Thursday alone — the largest single-day increase since May 1.
It’s an increase that Public Health Director Meredith Hurley called, “Concerning for sure.
“People have forgotten or have been lulled into this idea that Covid is not in our state anymore and it is,” Hurley said.
The first known case of the coronavirus in Winthrop was reported on March 16 and the first death from the virus in Massachusetts was an 87 year-old Winthrop man three days later. Cases seemed to have stabilized in May, but now they’re on an upward trend again.
This new wave came as an unfortunate surprise, according to Town Manager Austin Faison.
“It doesn’t seem like we have this virus under control,” Faison wrote in an email to the Sun-Transcript. “In my opinion, the easing of restrictions has led to the increase in cases.”
Hurley agreed that the state’s progression through the reopening phases (Massachusetts entered Phase 3 on July 6) has had an effect. Since then, many establishments such as restaurants and fitness centers have reopened.
According to Hurley, there are a few other developments that the recent spike can be attributed to as well.
For one, testing capabilities have increased since March. While the town does not have a testing center of its own, the health department receives information from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, East Boston Neighborhood Health, Cambridge Health Alliance, CVS and other sites across the state. Some sites report results within 24 hours; some take as long as eight days.
Although testing is an important step to keeping the community safe, according to Hurley, it is not a fail-safe. It can take anywhere between two and 14 days for the virus to be detected. Someone exposed to a sick person on Friday can find out they were exposed on Sunday, get tested on Monday, have a negative result and start showing symptoms on Wednesday.
This discrepancy, according to Hurley, makes it difficult and laborious to trace contacts and warn them of exposure. Hurley currently runs the tracing operation in town with three paid interns.
Furthermore, there is the increased social interaction that comes with summer weather and a population that is “fatigued” by the lack of socializing that the pandemic has forced it to endure.
Had you asked residents in April whether they would attend a barbeque with communal food, they would have vehemently rejected the notion, according to Hurley. But in the summer months, especially on holidays such as July 4th, that is exactly what was happening.
“We have to do a lot better at assessing our social interactions,” Hurley said.
When interacting with others, Hurley said, it is important not to share food or drinks. Group interactions should be kept to 10 people or less and should not be held indoors. Residents should also continue wearing masks or face covering whenever in situations where social distancing (staying six feet apart from others) is not possible.
“The more times that people interact with one another indoors or without masks,” Faison said, “the higher probability that people can contract the virus.”
According to Faison, the town is exploring ideas to enforce certain measures “for the safety of everyone.” He did not clarify what those measures were.
And despite the spike, there currently is no plan to reclose any of the businesses that already have opened back up.
There is no plan to keep the schools closed in the fall, either. In fact, town officials and the health department have been working with Superintendent Lisa Howard to ensure a safe transition.
There likewise is no plan to close the beaches, although Faison said the town is “considering all measures to keep people safe.”
Those locations are not inherently dangerous; rather they may be locales for breaking the rules of social distancing.
“That’s not the beach that’s putting them at risk,” Hurley said. “That’s their behavior that’s putting them at risk.”
Maxim Tamarov is a freelance reporter covering coronavirus and environmental issues for the Winthrop Sun Transcript. Send comments or story ideas to [email protected]