BOSTON (SHNS) – Lawmakers and local officials from Cape Cod reminded the public to cooperate with contact tracing efforts and to maintain commitment to public health precautions after a slight uptick in new COVID-19 cases over the past week.
A growing total number of infections alone does not indicate a reversal of substantial progress that both the Cape and Massachusetts as a whole have made, Sen. Julian Cyr said during a Thursday conference call, but the growth in cases in Barnstable County has been more substantial in the past week than in prior weeks.
Between July 16 and July 22, Barnstable County reported 51 new confirmed infections, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. Over the prior four weeks, the weekly increase in cases averaged 24.
“The last time our case counts resembled this was in mid-May,” Cyr, a Truro Democrat, said during a Cape Cod Reopening Task Force call. “This is a trend, it’s not a spike, and these numbers may relate to an isolated event and seem, at least in the last few days, to head downward.”
A portion of the increase in cases appears to be linked to a single event. Nine people tested positive after attending a house party where about 60 attendees did not distance or wear face coverings, according to a CBS Boston report.
At least one of the individuals who contracted the virus reportedly worked for the Hangar B restaurant, prompting the owner to halt dine-in service for at least two weeks, the Cape Cod Chronicle reported.
Cyr said during Thursday’s conference call that local health officials are still examining any additional risk of spread, and he stressed that all Massachusetts residents should participate in contact tracing for the good of public health.
“If you’re contacted by a contact tracer, please, please, please be forthright about the people that you’ve been with and the interval of time,” Cyr said. “An airtight contact-tracing program can help us really contain COVID-19 and protect those that we love who’ve been exposed or other people who may have been exposed. The contact tracing program is not designed to get anyone in trouble.”
Another factor contributing to the slight increase in overall positive tests is likely a larger population, according to Cyr. Even amid the outbreak, the summer season is still in swing on the Cape with at least 100,000 more people present than the off-season population.
Officials reiterated common refrains during Thursday’s call: social distancing, face-coverings and hygiene all play a key role in keeping the highly infectious virus at bay.
“What we’re going to do is just continue to watch those numbers, and continue to have constant conversations with all of our partners, really making sure that we have a handle on what the data is saying on the Cape,” said Sean O’Brien, who leads the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment’s incident command team.
Both Cyr and Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Woods Hole Democrat, touted amendments they successfully included in a $1.1 billion supplemental spending bill currently sitting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk aimed at relieving Cape and Islands communities from one source of financial strain.
The Steamship Authority normally funds itself fully through fares, but it currently projects an operating deficit of about $25 million because of declines in ridership amid the pandemic. Under the section of state law creating the authority, if the ferry operator runs a financial deficit, the state must pay to close the gaps and then seek full reimbursement from coastal communities served by the transit.
Budget bill language offered by Cyr and Fernandes effectively halts that liability for 2020, exempting affected municipalities and counties from millions of dollars in costs.
The impacts would have been strenuous. Fernandes said Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket together would have faced at least $8 million in costs, while the port communities of Barnstable, New Bedford and Falmouth would have been on the hook for more than $2 million each.
“Our communities are already going through dire economic times themselves,” Fernandes said. “Our towns are projecting significant (budget) deficits due to COVID, and so the last thing they could afford was to shore up the Steamship Authority.”
Lawmakers were not available to explain how the authority’s deficit will be covered if the bill is signed.