WESTFIELD — The COVID-19 infection rate in Westfield nearly doubled from last week to this week, with 99 new cases confirmed in the city.
Health Director Joseph Rouse said Wednesday evening that 72 percent of the 99 new cases were among the unvaccinated, a number that has held steady between 65 and 85 percent since the Health Department began tracking it.
The pandemic case total for Westfield now stands at 4,118.
Rouse pointed to Westfield’s relatively low vaccination rate as one reason for the increase in cases. Last week, Westfield had a vaccination rate of 54 percent, though that number technically decreased this week. Though the number of vaccinated people remains mostly the same, the addition of 5- to 11-year-olds as eligible persons means that the rate itself decreases, even though the number of vaccinated people did not. Pediatric COVID-19 cases are also on the rise.
Rouse said that the city has no plans to implement new mandates for masks or vaccines. Instead, the Health Department intends to increase vaccine access, including now being able to provide vaccines itself, something the department had been trying to do since vaccines became available.
“The vaccine is the only thing that will get us out of this,” said Rouse, “unless you want to go back to mask mandates or mandates for limited gatherings.”
He said that, without the vaccine, the 99 new cases this week “would have been 199.”
“The hesitancy needs to be addressed. We are banging our heads against the wall because we know the science,” said Rouse. “This is so unbelievably mentally, physically, and emotionally draining, every single day.”
Multiple members of the public spoke during public participation in Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, both in favor of and against vaccines and COVID-19 mitigation measures. Those who spoke against the vaccines claimed they are unsafe or ineffective. Board of Health member Dr. Stan Strzempko, who works at Baystate Noble Hospital, shot back, saying that the claims the people were making against the vaccines did not reflect the data he was seeing, and what he was seeing on the ground in his job.
Last week, the infection rate had actually dipped, from 86 cases the week before to 56 cases. Rouse said in his notes on last week’s numbers that he had expected the numbers to spike up again this week, which came to fruition with 99 new cases.