After three months of keeping the virus at bay and securing a stellar vaccination rate, Nantucket is once again feeling the impact of COVID-19. Over the past two days there have been numerous developments related to new COVID-19 cases on the island. Here’s the latest information:
HOW MANY NEW CASES? Nantucket Health Department Director Roberto Santamaria told the Current Thursday night that there has been a total of 14 new COVID-19 cases on Nantucket since last Friday, July 16. As testing is now decentralized, with multiple options for individuals to access both rapid and PCR tests, as well as no daily testing report from the hospital (those reported ended last month), there has been some confusion regarding the number of new positives. Santamaria said some of the 14 new cases are believed to be tied to bachelor party on the island last weekend, and that some of the individuals who tested positive were fully vaccinated. None were hospitalized.
WASTEWATER SAMPLING REVEALS UPTICK: The latest sampling of island sewage at the Surfside Wastewater Treatment Plant was collected on Monday and the results were released late last night. They show a small spike in virus concentration after nearly three months of nearly undetectable levels. The sampling firm, Biobot, calculated that would equal roughly 10 new cases per day, based on wastewater flows and population.
MASK ADVISORY: With new COVID-19 cases on the rise for the first time in months on the island and around the region, the Town of Nantucket Health Department issued an advisory on Wednesday that urges residents and visitors to wear masks indoors and in public areas where distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status. The advisory is a recommendation and not mandatory, but with 14 new positive tests on Nantucket since July 16 and clusters popping up around the region, health officials felt it was a prudent step. “The increased virulence of the Delta variant, and its high ability to infect even those vaccinated in some cases, means that masking and distancing are strongly recommended at this time,” the Health Department said in a statement released late Wednesday. “Prolonged exposure, indoors and at high concentrations, is likely the cause of vaccinated individuals becoming infected. The Delta variant has also shown breakthrough ability against natural immunity and can reinfect those who have already had COVID.” While new cases are rising across the state, Governor Charlie Baker said he has no plans to change COVID-19 policies in Massachusetts. Some island businesses and organizations, including the Saltmarsh Senior Center and Le Languedoc on Broad Street, are now going back to requiring masks indoors.
COVID CLOSES YACHT CLUB: The Nantucket Yacht Club closed yesterday “until further notice” after three club members and staff tested positive for COVID-19. According to Peter McEachern, general manager of the yacht club, all three individuals were fully vaccinated. They sought out testing after experiencing mild symptoms. The yacht club on South Beach Street has about 80 employees, most of whom are housed in several dormitories surrounding the club. All of those staff members are now quarantined and awaiting testing that McEachern hopes will happen today. While the number of cases did not represent an outbreak, McEachern said the club’s decision to close was based on its protocols for both employees and club members that had been refined over the past year.
HOSPITAL EXPANDS TESTING: Citing a “regional surge” in new COVID-19 cases, Nantucket Cottage Hospital announced Thursday that it would be expanding its testing services starting today. The hospital will open the Anderson Building on the hospital campus to provide a separate location for what is expected to be increased demand for testing in light of the latest developments on the Cape and Islands. COVID-19 tests will be administered by appointment only for both those with symptoms and those who have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual. The number to schedule a test is 508-825-1000. “Nantucket Cottage Hospital will continue to respond and adapt to the needs of the community as this situation develops,” said James Lanza, Public Information Officer for the Nantucket Cottage Hospital.
DELTA VARIANT?: There is no definitive proof that the COVID-19 Delta variant is present on Nantucket. However, health officials suspect that the variant is already on the island based on the fact that most, if not all, of the new cases are so-called “breakthrough” incidents in which a fully vaccinated individual becomes infected. “It’s so far the only one (variant) that has been this effective at breaking through,” Santamaria said. Nantucket Cottage Hospital has sent some positive test samples to the state for gene-sequencing to identify variants, but none have come back showing the Delta variant. But as Nantucket Human Services Director Jerico Mele told the Select Board on Wednesday, “it’s a very safe bet that most, if not all, new COVID-19 cases are going to be Delta if they’re not already.