Low COVID-19 case trend continues

Health director still recommends end to winter sports

WESTFIELD- The Health Department reported 44 new confirmed COVID-19 cases this week to bring Westfield’s pandemic total to 2,453 cases.

The weekly report, which was released Thursday rather than Wednesday, stated there were no COVID-19 related deaths in Westfield in the past week. Sixty-one residents were in isolation with COVID-19 as of the report’s publishing. 

Health Director Joseph Rouse said Thursday morning that there are no clusters of note in the city, and the age range of those infected is quite wide. While the number of weekly cases fell, Rouse said that 14 cases had already been detected within the next reporting period. He said the daily spike may have to do with superbowl gatherings on Feb. 7. 

While superbowl gathering cases may cause a slight rise in cases in the coming weeks, Rouse said he believes the numbers will go back down soon after. 

Westfield Public Health Director

Individual cases on Westfield High School sports teams did lead to dozens of people needing to quarantine due to close contact. 

The hockey team as well as the junior varsity and varsity basketball teams each had positive cases among their players, which caused Rouse to recommend to theWestfield School Committee that the ongoing winter sports seasons be ended to prevent further spread. Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. had called for a motion to end winter sports during the Feb. 11 School Committee meeting, but no members were willing to make the motion.

At that time, Rouse said it was believed that just two teams, hockey and JV basketball, were affected by positive COVID cases. After the meeting, it was learned that an additional case had been detected on the varsity basketball team. 

“When one case pops up, the whole team has to quarantine, which can be 15 to 16 people,” said Rouse, “and then their close contacts also have to quarantine, which can be another 11 or 12 people.”

While confirmed positive case counts do remain relatively low, even among high school sports teams, Rouse said that he still recommends that winter sports end because of the strain on city resources when dozens of close contacts in a school setting need to be processed at once. 

The Massachusetts Contact Tracing Collaborative handles most contact tracing in the state among the general population. In Westfield the Health Department does the contact tracing for schools and city personnel so that there is little to no lag when informing individuals in those populations that they are a close contact. 

While this has not been an issue so far, Rouse said that the Health Department was suddenly inundated with sending out quarantine and isolation notices. 

“We had to send out 50 quarantine and isolation notices in one day. We have never had that happen the whole time we have been covering this,” said Rouse. “When things pop like that, while we are trying to prepare for vaccinations, we have to stop everything and put out these notices. That is not advantageous to the city resources.”

Rouse said that the situation is nobody’s fault, but that the health department and city don’t have the resources or manpower to handle such a large number of close contacts for just a few positive cases, especially as vaccine distributions begins to ramp up. 

“It’s just not a good time to have our numbers creep up because of these activities,” said Rouse, “I was willing to compromise a few weeks ago but now that we’ve seen what happens I think we need to stand our ground.”

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