Updated 6:10 pm
In its largest single day report, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend in a troubling sign for the Island as it continues to see a spike in confirmed cases.
In a phone call with The Times, Tisbury health agent and boards of health spokesperson Maura Valley confirmed that at least seven of the 20 cases are employees of Cronig’s Market, which is being considered a cluster after 10 of its employees tested positive for the virus. Contact tracing is being conducted on all cases to determine where others may have contracted the virus. Valley stated that some of Cronig’s cases are symptomatic while others are not.
“I think it’s definitely community spread. What we’re seeing is some families and social groups, but we’re still in the process of doing the contact tracing and trying to get a sense of what this all means,” Valley said.
In response to numerous calls from Cronig’s customers, Valley said that close contacts are individuals who have been six feet or closer to a positive individual for more than 15 minutes over a one day period.
“Most customers at a grocery store would not meet the definition of a close contact. If individuals who have shopped at Cronig’s are concerned they can schedule a test through TestMV,” Valley said. “Concerns regarding risk factors due to underlying conditions should be addressed with their primary care physician.”
Earlier Monday morning, the Island’s health agents met with the hospital to discuss the rise in cases. The hospital has gone back into incident command, a set of protocols they used earlier this year when the pandemic first hit.
Incident command is the hospital’s emergency preparedness mode. The hospital has a daily drill where they huddle and call management together to discuss what’s going on with the hospital operations. Now in incident command, the hospital focuses those daily discussions on the increasing cases.
“It’s how we do our drills, it’s enhanced communication,” Hospital CEO Denise Schepici said during a call with The Times Monday evening. “We go through supplies, staffing, the current state. It’s a mechanism to create tighter communication around being prepared for an emergency. We exercise that whether it’s COVID, a bomb threat, a fire, or an emergency.”
The hospital is not halting or closing any services at this time.
Determining when to enter incident command or not is a data driven choice, according to chief nurse and COO Claire Seguin who was on the same call. Once the emergency that prompted it subsides, the hospital will stop the incident command.
Now the boards of health and the hospital are working on community outreach to educate people about community spread, wear masks, social distance, and stop social gatherings outside families, according to Valley.
Schepici said going forward the hospital will work with the health agents to focus on density of gatherings and educating people to not be complacent.
“This is the time we said we could be more vulnerable to the surge, the weather’s getting colder, people are in close quarters, COVID fatigue. I know everyone’s tired,” Schepici said.
She added that while many people have continued to practice proper mask and social distancing practices, those who don’t create a problem for everyone.
The spike in cases over the past several weeks stands in stark contrast to the first six months of the pandemic, particularly the summer when the Island saw an influx of tourists.
“That’s what’s so frustrating,” Valley said. “You would think ‘oh wow we made it through the summer’ and we had people being careful and being safe and we still had a lot of people being tested. I’m not sure what to attribute it to other than we’re starting to see some community spread … It’s very disappointing.”
None of the new hospital cases were hospitalized or transferred over the weekend, according to Seguin, but the majority of the new cases were symptomatic.
“We predominantly do symptomatic testing for patients here so I would say, yes almost all of them had symptoms,” Seguin said.
Schepici said the Island can’t let its guard down despite what she called “COVID fatigue.”
“It’s disappointing,” Schepici said. “It’s not surprising when you have large gatherings. It started with the wedding four weeks ago and now we have the cluster at Cronig’s. It happens when you have a lot of people in close quarters, not wearing masks, and changing the behaviors that we were really doing so well.”
The surge in cases at the hospital continues an alarming trend for the Island which has seen 53 new cases in the past two weeks. The spike began on Oct. 26 when a cluster of cases was linked to an Island wedding. Boards of health have confirmed that at least 10 cases since then have been linked to the wedding.
These 53 cases in the past two weeks make up 37 percent of the Island’s now total 141 confirmed cases. The other 63 percent of cases were reported over the course of eight months, when testing began in March.
TestMV has now tested 19,514 individuals since it began testing in May. Of those, 47 have tested positive, 19,021 negative, and 446 pending results. The town of Aquinnah is also conducting its own testing. Aquinnah has tested 312 individuals with zero positives, 305 negatives, and seven pending results.
The 20 new cases on Monday spanned every age category besides those over the age of 70. There were six new cases in their 40s, four in their 30s, three in their 20s, three in their 50s, two in their 60s, and two under the age of 20.
Of the total 141 confirmed cases, 78 are female and 63 are male. In total 29 are in their 20s, 28 are in their 30s, 25 are in their 50s, 18 are younger than 20, 18 are in their 40s, 16 are in their 60s, and seven are older than 70.
On Friday, the boards of health reported that of all the confirmed cases, 103 are no longer symptomatic and have been released from isolation. One was lost to follow up and the others are being followed by public health officials. The number of non-symptomatic individuals released from isolation individuals is updated every Friday.
Updated to include comments from hospital officials – Ed.