Cape Cod is in the middle of the biggest COVID-19 resurgence yet, with hundreds of new confirmed cases being reported on a daily basis and hospitalizations returning to near-peak levels.

To help mitigate the spread of the virus, which has been rampant due to the highly contagious Omicron strain, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has stepped in to provide a free testing site on Cape Cod for the first time since the pandemic started.

The rise in cases has also prompted an advisory from the county health department, which is urging people to wear masks, return to social distancing and get vaccinated to protect public safety officials and healthcare providers

Free Test Site

After two years of the pandemic, the state has decided to open a Stop the Spread testing site on Cape Cod.

The site will open on Monday, January 10, at the Cape Cod Melody Tent on West Main Street in Hyannis. Free PCR testing will be available at the site from 9 AM to 1 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 1 to 6 PM on Tuesdays.

Appointments are not necessary at this site, but people can choose to register by going to barnstablecountyhealth.org and clicking through the links for COVID-19 information.

Free testing is also available at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in Falmouth and at the Orleans Department of Public Works. Testing in Orleans is available on Tuesdays from 9 to 11 AM, but the Falmouth site is slated to be closed due to the opening of the Melody Tent site.

Additionally, Cape Cod Healthcare patients are able to make appointments for PCR testing at either Cape Cod or Falmouth hospital by using the MyChart app.

All test sites are drive-thru, and people should expect to administer the test themselves under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Record Resurgence

Record numbers of COVID-19 cases on Cape Cod are being reported by the state on a daily basis, with single-day increases as high as 444 this week.

With many people using at-home COVID-19 tests, the actual figures are likely much higher. Sandwich Health Agent David Mason said people who test positive with at-home tests should, at a minimum, inform their primary care physicians because they may be eligible for treatment options.

Additionally, people should alert their town’s health departments of their positive result.

Since New Year’s Eve, 2,102 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in Barnstable County. In the same time frame, 10 people in the county have died from the virus.

Along the Upper Cape in the past week, 266 new cases have been reported in Bourne, 273 in Falmouth, 155 in Mashpee, and 214 in Sandwich.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported that the positivity rate in the county is 12.68 percent as of this week, which is lower than the state average of 15.03 percent.

Yesterday, Thursday, January 6, the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment reported seeing rates as high as 20 percent of tests administered at its sites returning as positive and said Cape Cod Healthcare is close to seeing about a quarter of its administered tests return positive results.

The hospitals are seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 patients as well, with beds between the two hospitals being occupied by 65 patients. Of those patients, six are in intensive care.

Dr. Ryan Bemis, who works at Falmouth Hospital and the Stoneman Outpatient Center in Sandwich, said he has never seen the emergency room so busy. About half of those patients in the emergency room are seeking COVID-19 treatment or testing.

As far as hospital admissions, Dr. Bemis said about 75 percent of people being hospitalized with the virus have not been vaccinated. People with two shots and a booster are generally experiencing milder symptoms.

Sandwich Fire Chief John J. Burke said the hope is that the region will follow what he called the “South Africa model.” The Omicron surge of the virus in South Africa peaked within a couple of weeks and quickly declined.

Masks, Social Distancing

With so many residents testing positive, the county health department released a statement strongly urging residents to get vaccinated and to resume wearing masks indoors.

“While we are trying to keep schools open and minimize the risk to healthcare staff, first responders and workers, we are asking the public to resume masking and physical distancing in indoor public settings like grocery stores, retail settings and places of worship, and to please avoid attending social gatherings,” Sean O’Brien, the county’s health director, said. “We need to put the skills we learned during past COVID surges back to work, and we are in the biggest surge we’ve ever seen right now.”

The rise in cases combined with the protocols surrounding infections has resulted in businesses and institutions having a lot of staff out sick, which includes school systems and public safety departments.

Schools across the region have reported a number of staff who have recently tested positive for the virus, although so far no schools have had to operate remotely.

Sandwich Schools Superintendent Pamela A. Gould said she is grateful for a number of college students who are still on winter break who have applied to be substitute teachers, which has made it possible to provide adequate coverage.

The state provided school districts with a shipment of antigen tests so that staff could test themselves before returning to work after the holiday break.

Dr. Gould said that if the schools struggle to stay open, it will not be due to student illness. Instead, it will be due to the inability to staff the schools.

Public safety officers are not exempt from falling ill, either, with police and fire departments in the region seeing employees being sidelined by the virus.

Chief Burke said his department has five staff members out with COVID-19, two of whom are going to be out for three or more weeks due to their respiratory symptoms.

He said he developed an “alternate staffing” plan in April 2020 that allows for up to 15 people to be unable to report to work for any reason before the reduced staffing plan is triggered.

As a result, the department’s response to emergencies has not been significantly impacted by the illnesses.

He said his staff frequently comes into contact with COVID-19 patients and estimated that 80 percent of the calls the department has responded to in recent weeks have been to homes and medical centers for COVID-19 patients.

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