Cases of COVID-19 are rising in New Bedford and across the state — even as summer edges closer and residents associate the warmer weather with declining numbers.
With a variant and subvariant circulating, most measurements of the virus’s impact in Massachusetts have climbed to levels last observed in February on the tail end of the winter surge.
In New Bedford, where new COVID-19 cases have been climbing through April and May, the count rose sharply this week. The state Department of Public Health reported 543 new COVID-19 cases during the week of May 11-18 — nearly double the 289 new cases logged during the previous seven days. There were only 160 new cases reported during the week of April 28 to May 4.
Southcoast Health reported four COVID-related deaths during the past 30 days, and as of Thursday, 33 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the system’s three hospitals. Of those 33 patients, 6% were being treated in the Intensive Care Unit.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which tracks COVID in wastewater at the Deer Island Treatment Plant, has been reporting rising levels of the virus.
The Light will continue to monitor and report on COVID-19, but will pause weekly updates, including new cases in New Bedford, percentage of those vaccinated and average daily cases.
Cases continue to pop up in the State House, which is open to visitors regardless of vaccination or test status and House and Senate lawmakers and staff are subject to a vaccine mandate. Legislative leaders are continuing to operate in a mask-optional mode, with lawmakers allowed to participate in sessions remotely. Gov. Charlie Baker was sick this week, although COVID-19 tests were negative.
While the public health landscape is vastly different from this time last year or even during the omicron-fueled peak in January, medical experts are once again urging caution.
“Despite the warmer weather and our collective hope for a reprieve of some sort, it is important to acknowledge that COVID-19 is still with us, and we need to continue to utilize the proven public health measures and tools at our disposal to prevent infection and disease spread,” Mass. Medical Society President Dr. Carole Allen said on Monday.
Southcoast Health is also urging residents to be aware of the rising cases.
“We ask the community to continue to be proactive in their health and take the necessary preventive measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Southcoast Health spokeswoman Kaitlyn Cox. In an email to The Light late Thursday, she added: “We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated, boosted, and wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.”
Widespread vaccinations and the availability of treatments have reduced the threat COVID-19 poses. Nearly 80 percent of the Massachusetts population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control data, more than half of whom have also received booster doses.
However, New Bedford’s vaccination rate is still far lower than the rest of Massachusetts.
Slightly more than 59% of New Bedford’s residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with about 68% having received at least one dose, according to Mass. DPH.
The Department of Public Health on Monday reported a total of 10,789 positive confirmed tests over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Massachusetts hospitals counted 739 COVID patients as of last Friday, more than three-and-a-half times as many as the 200 recorded on April 6, but much lower than the Jan. 14 high of 3,306.
Mass. Medical Society’s Allen noted that positive cases in Massachusetts communities and in our schools have been climbing over recent weeks, fueled by Omicron variant BA.2 and the subvariant BA.2 12.1. “It is impossible to predict whether the case numbers will continue to rise, but we know there are measures we can all take to minimize COVID-19’s impact,” Allen said.
She urged eligible Bay Staters who have not yet received the shots or boosters to do so and for anyone who tests positive to report the result to their physician so doctors can weigh deploying treatment such as the antiviral Paxlovid.
“We urge those who are at high risk to limit their exposure to others,” Allen said. “We know doing so can be a tough decision to make when planning for graduations, parties, vacation, and other seasonal events. We recommend masking for those who gather indoors or in large groups, regardless of individual risk level.”
“The physicians of Massachusetts want everyone to have a healthy summer, which means taking those extra steps to protect individual health and the health of others,” she added.
The specter of the virus continues to hang over the public sector.
On Monday, House officials announced another two individuals who were last in the State House last week had tested positive. That marks the ninth exposure notification from House or Senate leaders since April 25, collectively reflecting at least 27 cases.
The latest trends come as the country surpasses yet another grim toll: on Monday, the nationwide confirmed death toll from COVID-19 hit 1 million. As The New York Times noted in a sweeping analysis, that’s more Americans dead from the virus in less than three years “than in two decades of car crashes or on battlefields in all of the country’s wars combined.”
The White House announced Monday that Americans can now order a third round of at-home tests on COVIDTests.gov, with eight at-home tests available for each household.
Editor’s note: Information gathered by The New Bedford Light was used to update and add details to this State House News Service story.