As virus activity continues to decline in Massachusetts and more COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Springfield lags behind.
Springfield is one of just 13 municipalities in Massachusetts that remain at high risk for coronavirus infection. Along with Chicopee these are the only two places in western Massachusetts that show up as red on the state health department’s map, which is updated weekly and is based on COVID-19 incidence and test positivity rates.
There are encouraging signs however in the latest data, said the city’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris. Springfield recorded 265 confirmed COVID-19 cases for the week of May 2nd – down by 160 from the week before. The city has seen new case totals decline for three straight weeks.
"While we are still in the red, it is important that we are heading in the right direction," Caulton-Harris said.
New cases of COVID-19 in Hampden County are falling at a slower rate than the state as a whole. Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, said this is because vaccinations in several municipalities, including Springfield, badly lag behind the rest of the state.
"There is direct link between new case rates each day and how many people are protected by vaccine," Keroack said.
While 56 percent of the adults in Massachusetts have now received one vaccine dose, just 34 percent of Springfield residents have had a shot. 22.7 percent of the city’s adults are fully-vaccinated compared with 39 percent of the state’s population.
There is now more vaccine supply than demand. With available appointments going begging the super vaccination site at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield began vaccinating walk-ins Monday.
Caulton-Harris said the city is reviewing its strategies for getting people vaccinated which has featured neighborhood-based pop-up vaccination sites.
"We need to think about how we relax some of the challenges people are having getting to our clinics," said Caulton-Harris.
She said some thought is being given to offering people an incentive – perhaps in the form of a gift card -- to be vaccinated.
"We have not brought closure to that at this point, but it is certainly something we are considering," Caulton-Harris said.
Massachusetts moved to a new step in its phased reopening plan Monday with arenas and stadiums allowed to double capacity to 25 percent. Amusement parks, such as Six Flags New England in Agawam, can open at 50 percent capacity. Road races, youth and adult sports tournaments are again permitted.
Later this month, bars and been gardens can reopen and capacity limits go up for both indoor and outdoor events.
August 1st is the current target date for lifting all pandemic-era restrictions, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.
But Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno frets the city might not follow that timeline if vaccination rates don’t go up and COVID-19 case counts don’t rapidly fall.
"I want to get things open as soon as possible, but I want to do it in a safe smart way," Sarno said. "You jump the gun and instead of taking a step forward you take two steps back."
Sarno announced Monday that the city’s public library buildings and its senior center are tentatively scheduled to reopen in August.
He also said the city has been in talks with the promotors of the annual Jazz and Roots Festival about plans for holding the downtown concert in August. It was held virtually last year.