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New weekly COVID cases double in Springfield

Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris with a chart
Paul Tuthill
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris provides an update on COVID-19 cases in this file photo.

Officials again urge people to get vaccinated

New coronavirus infections are surging in many places including the city of Springfield, Massachusetts even before the arrival of a more potentially contagious variant.

Springfield recorded 818 new COVID-19 cases last week, more than double the confirmed number of infections from the previous week when the Thanksgiving holiday interrupted testing for the disease.

The latest count is the highest in Springfield since the surge last summer that peaked in early September. There were 495 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Springfield residents during the week of November 14. The week of November 21st ,when COVID-19 testing was suspended for several days, produced 377 cases.

The new data drew renewed pleas from Mayor Domenic Sarno to people – especially young people -- to get vaccinated.

“The young people think they are invincible,” Sarno said. “Why take the risk?”

Of the 818 cases last week, almost 58 percent were among people age 30 and younger, according to the data reported by the city.

Hospitalizations have also been on the rise. On Monday, Baystate Health reported 92 hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Two weeks ago, the hospital system said it was caring for 66 COVID patients.

“The people who are being hospitalized are the ones not getting a shot,” Sarno said.

The city has employed many strategies to try to convince people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to now take a booster including neighborhood pop-up vaccination clinics and the use of trusted voices in the community, such as clergy, to encourage inoculation and dispel misinformation about the vaccines.

Still, Springfield’s vaccination rate at just 55 percent is among the lowest in the state.

The start of the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Springfield coincided with the expiration on November 1st of a public health mandate for people to wear face masks in all indoor public locations.

Sarno said Monday he has no plans to order a new mask mandate.

“And there is a fatigue out there when it comes to being able to implement and enforce a mask mandate,” Sarno said.

The mandate to wear face coverings indoors was replaced by a strong recommendation. Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said she has observed that many have heeded the advice.

“ When I am in a Walmart or a Lowe’s, I observe people are wearing face-coverings and taking this seriously and that’s good,” Caulton-Harris said.

A new variant of the coronavirus, omicron, has been spreading around the world. The first confirmed case in Massachusetts was reported over the weekend.

“We are not going to be immune to this, so the questions around transmissibility and vaccines is going to be critical,” Caulton-Harris said.

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.