City suffers 1st COVID death in months, though infection rate drops

WESTFIELD — The number of new COVID-19 infections fell slightly in Westfield this week, as the city recorded its first coronavirus-related death since the early spring.

Westfield recorded 85 new infections between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1, with 115 people being in isolation with an active case of COVID-19. The pandemic case total for Westfield now stands at 3,453.

One death related to the disease was recorded in that time frame, bringing the pandemic total to 114, but Health Director Joseph Rouse said that it should not be taken as a sign that the virus has taken a deadlier new turn.

“It was specific to the individual. It was very unfortunate, but there were other factors involved,” said Rouse.

Of the 85 new cases, 74 were among unvaccinated people, a sign that the vaccines are still working to prevent most infections.

The infection rate last week is a drop from the previous week, when 100 cases were recorded. Rouse said that the recent weekly numbers had been inflated, in a sense, because there had been a number of case clusters across Westfield, mostly in childcare facilities. Those clusters have since begun subsiding, but Rouse said that Westfield remains in a state of community spread.

As the school year begins with a new mask mandate, Rouse said that he hopes that schools remain a relatively low source of transmission, as was the case throughout the pandemic  in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

“Last year, even at the height of the pandemic, schools weren’t seen as a major place of transmission,” said Rouse.

Rouse said that the delta variant, while substantially more infectious than previous variants in general, may actually be less infectious than previous variants in situations with proper ventilation, including outdoors. He suggested that one common mitigation effort, plexiglass barriers, may actually be counterproductive with this variant, as partitions can obstruct the proper airflow of a room and keep viral particles in the occupied area longer.

In larger outdoor gatherings, like the recent Whip City Brewfest on Aug. 28, Rouse said that transmission is still unlikely, as the delta variant does not seem to transmit well to other people in open air.

Though just one person has died from the virus in Westfield since the spring, Rouse said that there are COVID-19 patients in Baystate Noble Hospital, though he could not confirm how many were Westfield residents, as there may be residents of other nearby towns who went to Noble’s Emergency Room with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

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