After climbing exponentially for weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Springfield, Massachusetts has leveled off, but health officials fear a post-Thanksgiving surge. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The coronavirus continues to spread through the Springfield community at a high rate as the first cold-weather holiday of the pandemic is just days away.
" This is a pivotal week," said Dr. Robert Roose, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.
Speaking at Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s regular COVID-19 briefing Monday, Roose urged people to carefully plan their family gatherings with the threat of the virus in mind.
"We have unfortunately seen spread of the virus among each of our previously celebrated holidays starting with Memorial Day, then July 4th, Labor Day, and Halloween," said Roose. "As we move into a colder season and the overall rates ( of the virus) are higher, the stakes are also higher."
Health experts and government officials in Massachusetts, and elsewhere, have urged people not to travel out-of-state for the Thanksgiving holiday and to limit gatherings to immediate family members. People with underlying health conditions are urged not to attend a gathering. As always, mask-wearing is encouraged. Since the virus is spread primarily through the air, it has been suggested that windows be kept open to improve ventilation.
The number of COVID-19 patients at Mercy has remained at 14 for several days.
At Baystate Health, the largest hospital network in western Massachusetts, the number of COVID-19 patients has been in the 70s for the past week, after climbing to as many as 90 patients earlier this month.
"However, I don't expect that to hold given Thanksgiving," said Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate. "We are likely going to be seeing another spike in mid-December."
He said Baystate has 100 beds set aside for COVID-19 patients with additional capacity of 200 beds if needed.
Springfield recorded 632 confirmed COVID-19 cases last week – down 65 cases from the week before. Two weeks ago, there were 399 cases. Seventy-nine percent of the new COVID-19 cases are in people under the age of 50.
There were three deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Springfield last week. 136 city residents have died since the pandemic began.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said people need to be more diligent about wearing face-coverings at all times in public, as required by Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order.
"We do not want to go back to a place where we have to close gyms, businesses, restaurants, so please adhere to the governor's guidence," said Caulton-Harri.
The COVID-19 spike has affected the city’s public safety agencies. The Springfield Police Department, as of Monday, had 25 officers out with COVID-19. As a result the police department has gone back to assigning just one officer to a patrol vehicle, according to Deputy Chief William Cochrane.
The Springfield Fire Department has 31 firefighters who are in quarantine because of possible exposure to COVID-19. Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi said firefighters are being assigned overtime to make sure all shifts are fully staffed.