As a second wave of COVID-19 cases hits Massachusetts, officials in the state’s third largest city have announced steps they’ll take to try to stop the spread of the disease.
Springfield residents will be receiving text messages and robocalls alerting them to the city’s status as a high risk area for the coronavirus and urging preventative steps including wearing facemasks and avoiding gatherings. Similar messages will be advertised on public transit buses and conveyed by city officials through neighborhood councils.
"We are in a very dangerous time right now with this COVID-19," said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. He said the city is considering giving away masks at school meal pickup sites and having police officers pass out masks, as they did when the first wave of COVID-19 hit last spring.
Speaking at his weekly COVID-19 response briefing, Sarno said it is “disheartening” when he sees people not wearing facemasks.
"It is just completely irresponsible what is occuring now with masks not being worn by our kids and young adults," said Sarno.
Early on in the pandemic, Sarno issued a face covering advisory. The city’s Public Health Council authorized fines up to $300, but no one has actually been fined for not wearing a mask.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Springfield climbed to 211 last week – up by 95 from the week before. New daily case counts are now the highest the city has seen since May.
The new cases are being driven by infections in younger people. Seventy-six percent of the recent cases were in people under 50 years of age and 39 percent in people under the age of 30.
"It is small gatherings, it is households, it is indivituals fueling this second wave," said Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris. She said more staff will be assigned to contact tracing and inspectors will visit stores and other businesses to make sure health and safety protocols are being followed.
"In order to stop community spread our job is to go to everyplace we can to see there is compliance," said Caulton-Harris.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased by 50 percent in Massachusetts since Labor Day.
The Baystate Health network of hospitals reported 35 COVID-19 patients on Monday. The daily patient count had dipped as low as nine in September.
Baystate Health president and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack said the hospitals are ready for the surge in the patients.
" We are clearly heading in the wrong direction. We are not turning a corner," said Keroack. "I am sad to say it will most likely get worse before it gets better."
As of Monday, there were no COVID-19 patients in the hospitals’ intensive care units. Keroack said this is attributable to improved treatments for the disease and to the higher infection rates in younger people.