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Springfield's Top Health Official 'Extremely Concerned' By Rise In COVID-19 Cases

Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris with a chart
Paul Tuthill

There has been a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases detected in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

After weeks of daily new COVID-19 case counts in the single digits, Springfield recorded large increases in the last seven days.  There were 124 confirmed cases during the week of September 21st, up from 51 cases the week before.

Springfield has now slipped from green to yellow on the state health department’s color coded map that shows the incident rate for the coronavirus in each of the state’s cities and towns.  Yellow signifies “moderate risk.”

Mayor Domenic Sarno, speaking at his weekly COVID-19 update at City Hall, said the increase in cases appears tied to social gatherings that took place over the Labor Day weekend.  He said through free testing for COVID-19 that is currently available and contact tracing, city health officials will attempt to blunt the further spread of the virus in the city.

"We are going to work hard to get back into that green," said Sarno referencing the color-coded map. "This is a trend we need to knock down."

Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said 87 percent of the new cases in the past week were reported in just four residential neighborhoods – Forest Park, Liberty Heights, Mason Square, and the North End.

"We are extremely concerned," said Caulton-Harris.

She said the increase in cases is not coming from the return of college students to the city or from the MGM casino, where it was reported last week that some employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

"We have identifed areas where individuals live in close proximity to each other, live in the same house," said Caulton-Harris. "We have identified clusters."

The uptick in new cases has not resulted, so far, in a corresponding increase in hospitalizations, according to the latest COVID-19 patient counts at Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center.

Baystate president and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack said several of Springfield’s suburbs have also seen more cases.

"I don't really know if this is a blip, or the beginning of a trend," said Keroack. "But I would urge us all to not wait and see until it becomes obvious that this is a departure from our previous good record."

Sarno said the new COVID-19 case counts reinforce the decision to keep the city’s public school buildings closed and start the school year remotely as well as his decision to cancel door-to-door trick-or-treating next month.

"We are going to stand by that with no trick-or-treating," said Sarno. "We want to knock these (COVID-19 case) numbers down."

Springfield has not recorded a new COVID-19 related death in over a month.

The pandemic has claimed the lives of 131 city residents.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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