Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday addressed rising rates of COVID-19 cases on Cape Cod, saying his administration is in constant contact with officials in the region and noting Barnstable County has the highest vaccination rate in the state.
“We’re pretty much in daily contact with the health care and public health community down on the Cape and are constantly talking to them about testing resources and vaccine resources,” Baker said after touring the mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center with Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senator Edward Markey, and other Massachusetts officials.
While the Cape, which has a population that skews older, leads the state in COVID-19 vaccinations, both COVID-19 case numbers and positivity rates have increased in recent weeks. About half of the region’s communities are now considered to be at high risk for the spread of the virus, according to the state’s latest town-by-town report.
“The Cape, among other things, has the highest percent of its population vaccinated of any part of Massachusetts, but we’re going to continue to be pretty aggressively involved with them around testing, around contact tracing, around isolation policy and support and around vaccine policy as well,” Baker said Tuesday. “There’s a lot going on down there and we’re paying a lot of attention to it and we’re spending a lot of time with them on it.”
According to state data released Thursday, 39 percent of residents in Barnstable County, which encompasses all towns on Cape Cod, have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of March 23, the highest rate in the state. Overall, 29 percent of Massachusetts residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Baker did not address whether the state would redistribute some doses from mass vaccination sites to community clinics on the Cape, or set up an emergency vaccination site in the region, measures Yarmouth Health Director Bruce Murphy told the Globe he would like to see.
However, Baker noted that there’s a regional collaborative, a system in which municipal governments band together to create higher-capacity regional sites that can deliver more vaccinations than a single community, in Barnstable.
“They’re doing a ton of testing as well as a significant amount of vaccinating and have been for the better part of the past month,” Baker said of the regional collaborative. “As I said, they have vaccinated more people on the Cape than any other part of Massachusetts as a percent of their total population.”
The rising metrics on the Cape have alarmed local officials, with Murphy warning the region could be witnessing a “third wave” outbreak.
“I know they’re looking at doing emergency vaccination sites around Boston, but it would seem that you would need one down here if that’s where I believe the epicenter is of the third wave,” Murphy said this week. “I know they mention the uptick is coming, I’m saying this is the epicenter of the third wave on the Cape between towns increasing in the high risk and the P.1 variants really increasing down here.”
While key metrics in Yarmouth, Barnstable, and other Cape communities trend upward, indicators of COVID-19′s spread in Massachusetts overall have remained lower. As of last Thursday’s weekly report, the state’s average daily rate of infection per 100,000 residents was at 21.5, and Massachusetts’ positivity rate was at 2.01 percent, according to the most recent state data.
The state’s COVID-19 command center said in a statement that it is working with Barnstable County to address the spike in cases and is providing mobile testing sites in the region this week.
“The administration has worked with Barnstable County to help open 13 COVID-19 vaccination sites and Barnstable County residents are leading the state for vaccines doses, with 41% of residents having received a first dose and 24% of fully vaccinated - the highest percentages of any county in the state,” Kate Reilly, a command center spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.
Baker’s comments Tuesday came as he toured the convention center with Walensky, who the day before said she had a recurring feeling of “impending doom” over the direction of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
“We have so much reason for hope,” Walensky said after the tour. “We have 95 million Americans vaccinated with one dose of vaccine, and 53 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.”
In Massachusetts, Walensky said, “3.5 million people have received one dose, and one in five people, 20 percent, are fully vaccinated.”