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Despite Downturn, Western Mass. Still At Risk For COVID-19

Dr. Mark Keroack speaking at podium
Paul Tuthill

       As vaccination efforts continue, the winter surge in coronavirus infections appears to be retreating in the largest city in western Massachusetts.

       The number of new COVID-19 cases in Springfield last week totaled 638 – down from a peak of 1,177 new cases recorded during the first week in January.

       At his weekly COVID-19 response briefing in City Hall, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno urged people to not let down their guard and continue to practice social distancing and wearing face coverings in public.  

     "A majority of indicators point to we're starting to move in the right direction," Sarno said. "It is not over yet, but the swan song we are hoping is going to come very soon."

      As the rolling seven day average of new coronavirus infections continues to fall statewide, capacity restrictions at businesses including restaurants and retail stores were loosened in Massachusetts Monday.  Most businesses can now operate at 40 percent capacity.  A 25 percent capacity cap was ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker in late December.

      The number of peopled hospitalized in Massachusetts with COVID-19 fell below 1,500 for the first time since December. 

      The Baystate Health hospital system had 125 COVID-19 patients Monday, according to president and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack.   That is a slight increase from last week, but still well below the patient counts in early January.

     "There is still a lot of virus around and people should not take comfort from the fact that rates are declining," Keroack said.

       Efforts continue to get more people vaccinated for COVID-19.

      Baystate is opening a vaccination center in Greenfield, but because of limited supply of vaccine it will be open just two days per week, Monday and Tuesday.

      Keroack said Baystate is also planning to provide the vaccine to eligible patients at its health centers and also at a “pop up” site in Springfield. He said Baystate has the capacity to administer 1,500-2,000 doses of vaccine per day, but is receiving only 2,000-3,000 doses per week.

      "If we know we were going to get 8,000-10,000 ( vaccine doses) for the next four weeks or six weeks we could do a lot of creative things because we are planning new sites," said Keroack. "The major issue is the federal allocation ( of vaccine)."

          The city of Springfield continues to explore operating its own vaccination clinics at neighborhood locations, but so far has not been told it will receive a vaccine allotment from the state, according to the city’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

      "I am confident the state will be willing to work with us, but right now their focus is to get as much vaccine into arms as possible and they see the mass vaccination sites as that venue," said Caulton-Harris.

      One of the five large scale vaccination sites currently operating in Massachusetts is at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.

       Before the state last Friday, announced a call center to help people over age 75 book appointments to be vaccinated, staff at Springfield’s branch libraries and senior center helped over 1,600 city residents navigate the state’s online appointment system, according to Caulton-Harris.

      "I am, along with the mayor, extremely proud of the system we set up to help the elders in the city of Springfield," said Caulton-Harris.

       The city set up its own telephone assistance  in response to a deluge of complaints about the state’s online-only system for making vaccination appointments.


The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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