Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. issued a new stay-at-home advisory and a mask order on Monday, November 2, along with ordering restaurants to stop table service by 9:30 PM daily in response to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Massachusetts.
“The simple truth is this—too many of us have become complacent in our daily lives. We’re doing much better than many other states and many other countries, but here too we’ve let down our guard and have work to do,” the governor said during a press conference on Monday, during which he announced the new advisories and restrictions.
The stay-at-home advisory will be in effect between 10 PM and 5 AM, with residents urged to stay home except for necessary outings such as going to work or the grocery store, or to get some exercise.
Restaurants are required to stop providing table service at 9:30 PM, although they can continue to provide carryout service after that time. Liquor sales at restaurants and package stores must also now shut down at 9:30 PM.
Indoor recreational facilities such as theaters and youth and adult sports facilities will be ordered to close at 9:30 PM, as well.
The updated face covering order requires everyone over age 5 to wear a face covering in public places, even if they can remain socially distant.
The governor also tightened the limit on indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people. All gatherings, regardless of size, must disperse by 9:30 PM. Fines for violating the gathering order will be $500 for each person over the limit.
The new guidelines take effect Friday, November 6, and are expected to remain in effect until at least December.
Lack Of Testing
Members of the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force addressed the rising number of COVID-19 cases statewide and the lack of testing for asymptomatic individuals on the Cape and statewide during its weekly call with media Thursday, November 5.
Of the upward trend in virus cases throughout the commonwealth, state Senator Julian A. Cyr (D-Truro) said, “We are no longer in a position where we can say we’re not seeing community spread at this time, especially on the Mid-Cape.”
As of yesterday Cape hospitals were treating three patients for COVID-19. None were in intensive care, he said.
Sen. Cyr noted that while Barnstable County’s case numbers remain low compared to other parts of the state, the county “might expect to see a rise in hospitalizations” in the coming weeks.
He attributed the accelerated community spread on the Mid-Cape to a mid-October social gathering in Barnstable, noting that there is “a real consequence to socializing indoors without a mask that covers nose and mouth.”
He stressed the importance of the fundamental precautions of hand-washing, social distancing and isolating, and staying home if one has symptoms.
In what Sen. Cyr called the third wave nationally and the second wave in Massachusetts, more of the cases are in younger individuals compared with the cases in the spring. Younger people often present COVID-19-positive without showing any, or only mild, symptoms.
Regarding the lack of testing for asymptomatic people, Sen. Cyr said, “We have heard for months that Cape Cod is in a bit of a testing desert, when residents suspect they may have been exposed, especially if they are asymptomatic or have not had a call from a contact tracer. There are limited options and no free, no-questions-asked tests here.”
While the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has a statewide program for testing asymptomatic individuals called Stop the Spread, the nearest sites to Barnstable County are in Fall River and Nantucket, the senator said.
“Martha’s Vineyard has a similar testing site at Martha’s Vineyard High School, but that is paid for by private donations,” he said. “But there are barriers on Cape Cod. Cape Cod Healthcare, Outer Cape Health Services, Falmouth ConvenientMD and Community Health Center of Cape Cod cannot offer testing for asymptomatic individuals.”
In spite of Sen. Cyr’s comment, the Community Health Center of Cape Cod announced this week it is offering asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for anyone in the community.
The health center is offering the testing at its Falmouth office at 210 Jones Road in Homeport and at its Mashpee office at 107 Commercial Street. Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank’s charitable foundation awarded a grant to enable the health center to add an online scheduling tool at www.chcofcapecod.org/coronavirus. The website provides the opportunity for patients and others in the community to view testing availability and to schedule an appointment. Individuals can also call 508-477-7090 to make an appointment.
Karen Gardner, chief executive officer at Community Health Center of Cape Cod, and Christine Conrad, vice president of marketing and solution development for Martha’s Vineyard Bank, kicked off the program at the health center’s Falmouth office on Wednesday, November 4.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, so many individuals have expressed an overwhelming fear of the unknown, and uncertainty of the current situation,” Ms. Gardner said. “We want to do our part to make it easy for these people in our community to receive testing, and to cope with the challenges presented by COVID-19.”
Community Health Center of Cape Cod will continue to provide symptomatic tests for its patients. This program will now allow anyone the ability to be tested for COVID-19 at the health center. This is in response to increased demand from the community for testing, especially with the holidays approaching. Individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to call their primary care provider to schedule a symptomatic test.
A map of Stop the Spread testing sites can be found at www.mass.gov/info-details/stop-the-spread.
“The concern is that the current availability of testing may not meet the demand. We’ve been talking about this for months, and we worry that this will increase if cases continue on the trajectory we’re seeing. More Cape Codders will want to be tested,” Sen. Cyr said. “We have to do everything we can to bend trends downward in community spread, especially for older individuals and people with limited mobility.”
Sen. Cyr said he expects more Cape and islands communities to move in the coming weeks to the higher-risk categories on the state’s color-coded maps in which red represents the highest risk, and he urged people in both the public and private sectors to be “proactive on testing.”
To do so, Barnstable County will need more resources, particularly federal and state funding for testing programs, he said.
“I don’t want to see us reacting after we go into the red. We need to figure this out. We need more testing,” he said. “The task force is working with the county, healthcare providers, local health departments, business owners and others. We’re hoping to have some homegrown resources in place.”
Governor Baker has not yet released $550,000 from the state supplemental budget passed in July that is part of funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. These dollars are intended to expand access to coronavirus testing on the Cape and islands.
“We have been persistently requesting this. I’m frustrated, and my patience is wearing thin. The $550,000 would be tremendously helpful,” Sen. Cyr said. “This is not the fault of Cape Cod Healthcare and other medical providers. They are using the limited testing resources for symptomatic and prescreened patients. We have adequate resources in the hospital space now [for acute cases], and we’re well-prepared there for an increase [in need for testing]. The holdup is in the [Massachusetts Executive Office of] Administration and Finance, which hopefully will release these dollars, which are resources required under law.”
The senator put much of the responsibility for testing shortages on the federal government.
“The current administration has not provided sufficient testing materials, so there is a bit of scarcity in Massachusetts and across the country,” he said. “In an ideal world, we would have low-barrier, no-questions-asked asymptomatic testing [as we do for HIV]. The commonwealth is trying to do the best we can with limited resources. The $550,000 will help toward that effort, but we may still need more resources.”
With the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 26, and the Christmas holiday a month later, Sen. Cyr said the task force will focus on holiday planning during next week’s call with media on Thursday, November 12.
“It is increasingly clear that given the level of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, people should reconsider plans and think creatively about how they celebrate these holidays,” he said, suggesting that families host smaller-than-usual gatherings and take advantage of takeout meal options from local restaurants as examples. “People need to think very carefully and thoughtfully about their Thanksgiving plans. There will be an increased risk of community spread if traditional Thanksgiving plans proceed.”
Sean O’Brien, director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, said that in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday the county is working on processes to test asymptomatic individuals, including people who are traveling or are coming back home from out of state, though he did not say how soon such processes might be up and running.
“We are reaching out, looking at facilities and investigating drive-thrus. There are maybe some other ways of doing it; it might be a multifaceted response. Also, our rapid response team is an option where needed. The county would operate sites working with other partners [including public health nurses, fire departments, medical organizations, Cape Cod Healthcare and others,” he said.
Wendy K. Northcross, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said safe holiday planning and the testing that accompanies it is the underpinning not only for the county’s physical health but also for its economic health.
The testing situation is “murky right now on Cape Cod, but we’re working to clarify, get capacity and take control of the situation here on Cape Cod,” she said, urging people to investigate local businesses with to-go Thanksgiving dinner options. “People need to be mindful of the risks they take, and it’s important not to let our guard down.”
Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Human Services, took an even harder line on Thanksgiving planning: “From a public health point of view, [my suggestion is] in line with the governor’s [on Monday]—only socializing [hosting Thanksgiving dinner and festivities] with the group of people with whom you live. It’s simply [a reflection of] the public health realities of infection control.”
By The Numbers
As of yesterday, the Department of Public Health stated that Barnstable County has 2,078 cumulative cases to date since the beginning of the pandemic in March. There have been 186 cumulative confirmed or probable deaths from the virus since March.
Statewide, there have been 10,062 total deaths out of 158,937 total confirmed cases. There are 17,455 estimated active cases throughout the commonwealth, with a 1.86 percent seven-day average positivity rate; a 458 percent seven-day average growth in new confirmed cases compared with the previous week; a 182 percent seven-day average growth in cases in hospitals; and a 51 percent seven-day average growth in COVID-19 deaths.
The average age of death from the virus is 80, and 67 is the average age of hospitalized patients.