Officials at the popular tourist destination of Provincetown, Massachusetts, have issued a new mask advisory amid a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Officials say a cluster of more than 130 new cases is linked to the July 4 weekend celebrations. Many of those who tested positive were fully immunized.
Here’s what we know about the increase in cases in the city.
Who are the new cases?
After the weekend of July 4, there was an increase in positive coronavirus cases in Provincetown, in addition to people reporting COVID-like symptoms. The COVID-19 infection has occurred in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, city officials said.
As of July 16, 132 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 had been officially reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health associated with the Provincetown cluster. Of those cases, 89 are residents of Massachusetts, with 39 residing in Barnstable County. The rest of those who test positive live outside of Massachusetts.
An investigation into a case is underway and the numbers are subject to change as the situation evolves, health officials have said. It was not known exactly how many cases were in people who were vaccinated compared to people who were not.
In an emergency meeting on Monday, the Board of Health voted to advise people to wear masks indoors, regardless of their immunization status. High density sites where social distancing is not feasible are advised to apply pre-admission vaccine checking as per the advisory. However, some city officials felt the advisory did not go far enough.
“I have to say I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t taken a stronger stance on this. Rather than just advising, we should demand masks,” Board of Health member Dr Janet Whelan said. of Provincetown. “The most interesting thing for me about this cluster of cases is that so many infected people have been vaccinated, which sort of means that a lot of vaccinated people who are exposed to it may feel safe, but may also be. forward to others. “
After 130 people in Provincetown contracted the virus, Provincetown officials are advising people to wear masks indoors whether or not you are vaccinated.
Will a public health emergency be declared?
Authorities have yet to declare a health emergency, but said they will continue to review the data.
“You can be sure that, if we don’t see an inflection in this over the next three weeks, I will call us back in session and we will consider declaring a public health emergency, but I want public health officials tell us they think it’s okay, “Provincetown Board of Health Chairman Stephen Katsurinis said.” I think it’s a good, solid step. And I think that’s good enough for where we are. “
The advisory urges people to get the vaccine if they haven’t already, and to get tested and stay home if they are exposed or have symptoms. Additionally, all unvaccinated people, including children under 12, are required to wear masks both indoors and outdoors when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. which complies with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
During peak season in P-Town, it gets crowded but not many masks as city officials try to bring the outbreak under control at the popular tourist spot.
“Provincetown is a petri dish right now,” said Michael Poniatowski. “People go to clubs, they sweat, they breathe… and in case and point three, friends got it.”
Poniatowski’s friends are not alone. So far, 132 coronavirus cases have been linked to the Provincetown cluster as of the holiday week of July 4 – and most of them have been vaccinated, like Robert Coy who was visiting from Chicago.
“It’s kind of like a terrible cold,” Coy said. “I’m feeling a little better right now, but yesterday and this morning were pretty tough.”
City officials are sounding the alarm and issuing the public health notice asking everyone to mask themselves inside again, even those who have already received their COVID vaccine.
“We want the people who live here to be safe and we want the visitors who come here to be safe,” said General Manager Alex Morse. “If we react accordingly, I think we’ll be in a much better place and we really won’t have to do some of the more stringent restrictions that were in place a year ago.”
Morse says they are also urging major sites to help stop the spread by requiring customers to show proof of their vaccine status. To date, 32 companies have been associated with the cluster.
The ramp-up of testing is also part of the strategy. They have extended a mobile site at least until the end of the week.
“It’s scary, I mean I want to play it safe, so I’m glad there is a test site here,” one man said.
The queue was filled Monday with holidaymakers who say they are changing routes.
“Here I am with my mask on to avoid the places I wanted to go,” said another man.
Provincetown has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, and while these tests show mild symptoms, locals say they are still worried this advice may not go far enough.
“There is nothing that is imposed in any way,” said Fred Biddle.
City officials say if they don’t see improvement over the next three weeks, they will consider elevating this to a public health emergency.
In Monday’s emergency meeting, city officials and business owners spoke about the need to support local businesses that impose their own mask requirements
The Department of Public Health has issued an alert to other Massachusetts jurisdictions to inform them of the outbreak in Provincetown, officials said. State health officials are asking jurisdictions to report any cases that have recently traveled to Provincetown so officials can get a better idea of the extent of the outbreak.
Additionally, the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are working closely and actively seeking cases in other jurisdictions, city officials said. Indeed, there are so many identified cases outside of Massachusetts that it requires local, state and federal coordination, officials said.
Ann Scales, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said in an email Monday that she was reviewing the department’s response to the outbreak.