The month of December has seen a record-high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Cape Cod as well as more than double the number of new cases of the virus that were reported in November.
Vaccinations are ongoing for members of the healthcare community. Within the next couple of weeks, vaccinations are expected to start being administered to people who work in public safety fields, Sandwich Fire Chief John J. Burke said.
Tighter restrictions are in effect across the state until at least January 9 in an effort to minimize the post-holiday spread of COVID-19. Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. said his administration will be evaluating these restrictions to determine if they can be lifted at that time or if further measures will be necessary.
By The Numbers
The Barnstable County Department of Human Services reported that 52 people are hospitalized on Cape Cod with COVID-19 as of Sunday, December 27.
This is the highest number of hospitalizations due to the virus in the region to date.
Of those who are hospitalized, 41 are at Cape Cod Hospital, with five in intensive care, and 11 are at Falmouth Hospital, with two in intensive care.
As of Wednesday, a total of 2,190 people have been diagnosed with the virus over the course of the month. This is more than twice the number of people diagnosed with the disease in November, which was previously the highest month for diagnoses.
As of Wednesday, a total of 42 people have died in December from the virus, making it the second most deadly month for the virus on Cape Cod.
During a public service announcement released on Wednesday, Chief Burke said vaccinations for public safety professionals are likely to start being administered within the first weeks of January.
The Town of Sandwich has been approved by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer the vaccines. Chief Burke said that because of this, the town has partnered with Falmouth, Mashpee and Bourne to provide vaccinations to first responders in all four towns.
He said this will allow Sandwich to vaccinate approximately 250 of the 900 public safety workers across Cape Cod.
Chief Burke said the town’s COVID-19 response team plans to promote the vaccine, though it will not be mandatory for personnel.
“We do have some people waiting, but it is due to them already being COVID-19-positive and they would like some time to go by,” he said.
He said about 80 percent of the fire department’s personnel has indicated that they will be getting the vaccine.
Chief Burke said Sandwich Town Physician Dr. Ryan Bemis has already been vaccinated and will be putting together a public service announcement about the inoculation. He has already held a presentation about the vaccine for firefighters on the Upper Cape.
Additionally, Sandwich Town Nurse Joanne Geake has received both doses of the Moderna vaccine. Chief Burke said she will be speaking with Dr. Bemis.
The Sandwich Health Department advised residents that at this time, the vaccine is not available to members of the general public and asked that people not call his office looking to be vaccinated. When the vaccine is more widely available, a dedicated number will be set up so that residents can make appointments.
Tighter restrictions around capacity at restaurants, places of worship and retail stores went into effect the day after Christmas and will remain in effect until at least Saturday, January 9.
Capacity for most businesses, including grocery stores and restaurants, is at 25 percent.
Also included in the restrictions are close-contact personal services such as nail and hair salons, libraries, fitness centers and museums.
Gov. Baker said these restrictions are meant to discourage people from gathering with people they do not live with during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
During a news conference on Wednesday, he said that over the next week the administration will be evaluating the restrictions to determine whether they will be lifted on January 9 or if further restrictions will be needed. He did not elaborate on what might be meant by further restrictions.
The new guidance does not impact K-12 education.
New COVID-19 Strain
A new strain of COVID-19 that has been circulating in Europe has been found in two patients in Colorado, both of whom are National Guard members, according to National Public Radio.
Marylou Sudders, secretary of of the Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department, said the CDC is monitoring this new strain very closely. The key feature of this new strain is that it is highly contagious, she said.
Gov. Baker added that while it is more contagious, it does not appear to be more severe. He said both Pfizer and Moderna have stated that their vaccines should still be effective against the new strain.
He stressed that the public health measures of mask-wearing and social distancing remain important regardless of the strain of the virus.