WESTFIELD – A record number of 173 new COVID-19 infections in Westfield was reported Jan. 6.
This brings Westfield’s pandemic total cases to 1,692. As of Wednesday evening there were 186 active cases in the city and no deaths reported this week. The total number of deaths in Westfield due to COVID-19 is 84.
Health Director Joseph Rouse said Wednesday that the city is still clearly in a state of full-scale community spread. He said the record number of new infections likely stems from ill-advised gatherings on Christmas and New Year’s.
“A lot of the case investigations we’ve done found people admitting to going to family gatherings,” said Rouse, “It’s no mistake when you see seven people with the same last name all testing positive.”
Rouse said that the lack of deaths this week can be attributed to a lack of cases in congregate living facilities for seniors. Most of those being infected are those of working age, though he said there is a concentration of cases among those in their 20s and those in their early-to-mid 50s. This indicates that there have been many Christmas gatherings in which adult children visited their parents and contributed to the spread of the virus that way, he said.
“Seniors, to their credit, are being very careful,” said Rouse, “They’re scared. They’ve seen friends and relatives have the virus get the best of them.”
On Wednesday, an outbreak was reported at Western Mass Hospital, with 10 patients and 10 staff testing positive for COVID-19.
Despite the high case numbers, Rouse said his recommendation that schools may reopen for hybrid learning on Jan. 19 has not yet changed. He said they will be looking closely at youth sports to make sure that infections transmitted in those situations are not brought into the school buildings when they reopen.
“I appreciate that we were able to take this month off. I don’t see any reason yet why we couldn’t go back on the 19th,” said Rouse, “But what happens with school-aged kids between now and then? We need to keep a close eye on sports to make sure that’s not a source of transmission.”
He believes that the weekly case numbers could drop again once enough time has passed from Christmas and New Year, though he does not think the current numbers fully reflect New Year’s infections.
More people will be brought on to help the Health Department with contact tracing. Rouse said that the new contact tracers will largely focus on cases involving city employees, the police department, and the fire department. Currently, most contact tracing is handled by the state’s Contact Tracing Collaborative, with the Health Department having just a few staff to handle cases themselves.
Despite the rising case numbers locally and across the country, Rouse, like many others have said recently, believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re talking about a vaccine that’s going out and it’s progressing nicely and there’s no shortage, but we’re worse off than we’ve ever been with the number of cases,” said Rouse, “We’re not really panicking right now. A few months ago we would have been. Now we kind of know what is happening and we know the reasons. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we have to get through it.”