Officials in the largest city in western Massachusetts are encouraged by signs that a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases may have been tamped down.
Springfield recorded 132 confirmed COVID-19 cases last week – down 34 from the week before. This halted a three-week sharp rise in cases that put the city in the red high risk for community spread category on the state health department’s color-coded map.
One week does not make a trend, but Mayor Domenic Sarno said he is optimistic that the spread of the virus is being kept in check.
"We want to keep this going so we can get out of the red zone, get back into the yellow, eventually back into the green and then get rid of this forsaken COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic," said Sarno.
The latest testing data revealed at Sarno’s weekly update again showed younger people are now getting infected at high rates. 49 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Springfield last week were in people under age 30.
As it has been for the last month, the new cases are concentrated in residential neighborhoods and not in congregate housing or on college campuses. 44 percent of the cases last week were in two ZIP codes.
Working with the state health department to try to lower the infection rates in these neighborhoods, Springfield’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the city plans to produce public service announcements and send out so-called “COVID-19 ambassadors” to do community outreach.
"The only way we are going to get a handle on stoping community spread is if individuals help us through changed behavior," said Caulton-Harris.
The city’s contact tracing has identified several clusters of the virus occurring among people living in the same households.
"We have chosen not to give street addresses ( of the COVID-19 cases) because we know there is the possiblity for discrimination," explained Caulton-Harris. "We give just enough information to make good decisions. That is our goal-- making good decisions."
Testing for COVID-19 at Baystate Medical Center has also identified “family clusters,” according to Dr. Sarah Haessler, an infectious disease expert at the hospital.
"A lot of young people who acquire the disease either remain completely asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and it may not occur to them that they have COVID-19 and it can then get passed to more vulnerable members of the family," said Dr. Haessler.
Because of the way the virus can spread on moisture droplets in the air, Dr. Haessler suggests people consider wearing face-coverings and definitely practice social distancing, even when at home.
"Stand a few feet away, you don't have to stand right next to someone all the time," said Haessler. "That is the way to protect family members from each other."
Springfield did not record a new COVID-19 death last week. 132 city residents have died so far in the pandemic.