PROVINCETOWN — There is a new outbreak of detected Covid-19 cases in Provincetown.
“Since the end of last week, they’ve been finding several cases a day” at Outer Cape Health Services’ rapid testing site in Provincetown, said state Sen. Julian Cyr on Tuesday. Other people have posted on Twitter and Facebook and even appeared on Boston TV stations, saying they tested positive after their July 4th vacation here.
But the overwhelmingly high vaccination rate here means there is actually good news to report: in all of the cases that OCHS has discovered, the symptoms are mild to moderate, and no one has gone to the hospital or suffered severe illness.
“The moderate intensity of these symptoms means the vaccine is working as predicted,” said Cyr. “As we closely watch hospitalization data and severity of illness, we are not seeing those indicators that would truly cause alarm. As we move into living with this virus — I don’t want to make predictions here — but I think we are experiencing something a lot of communities will be experiencing soon.”
“I want to say adamantly: we are not seeing anything that we didn’t expect as we enter a new normal,” Town Manager Alex Morse told the select board on Monday. “Like every other community, we are learning to live with this virus. It’s important that we have facts and data to guide our decisions. I am not recommending any changes in policy at this time.
“If anything,” Morse added, “we have discovered that the vaccine is working.”
The nature of Covid infections in the vaccinated population has been a long-anticipated subject. Primary questions have included the frequency of “breakthrough” infections, the intensity of illness, and the frequency of transmission by vaccinated people.
All three American vaccines were tested specifically for their efficacy against severe illness and hospitalization, rather than for their efficacy against any kind of infection at all. So, it was expected that the severest health outcomes would be blocked by the vaccines, and so far, that is what appears to be happening.
“Obviously, I don’t have specific medical information about individuals — but my understanding is, no one has progressed beyond the standard, cold and flu-like symptoms,” said Cyr. “In a certain sense, I find that comforting, and a real accomplishment as a community.”
The Independent’s questions about the outbreak were originally directed to Outer Cape Health Services, but spokesman Gerry Desautels forwarded the inquiry to Cyr, who has also served as the public information officer for the Cape Cod Covid Response Task Force.
Cyr, state Rep. Sarah Peake, the town of Provincetown, Outer Cape Health Services, and Barnstable County released a joint statement on Tuesday evening about the outbreak. The statement announced a state-funded expansion of testing to the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Provincetown on Wednesday, July14, Thursday, July 15, and Friday, July 16. Those tests will be free, and OCHS will continue its free rapid testing program as well.
A mobile vaccination clinic will also be on Ryder Street Extension, at the bus stop near the municipal parking lot, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. That clinic will feature the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Free vaccination is also available by appointment at OCHS (which offers the Moderna vaccine) and at the CVS in Provincetown (which offers the Pfizer vaccine.)
At Monday’s select board meeting, both board member John Golden and chair Dave Abramson asked Morse how the town would report case data on the town’s website.
Morse said the town would link to the state’s weekly Covid data report, released every Thursday evening. That report includes town-by-town reporting of positive PCR test results, which are considered “confirmed cases.” It does not, however, include any town-by-town or even county-level reporting of rapid test results, which are considered “probable cases.”
Early in the pandemic, rapid tests (also called antigen tests) produced a high rate of false positives and false negatives, so positive test results on rapid tests have long been segregated as “probable cases.” The rapid tests have improved, however, and the state authorized the BinaxNOW rapid test to be used without a confirmatory PCR test in December 2020. OCHS has been using a free supply of BinaxNOW from the state to support its free testing program — that’s thousands of tests in all — for more than six months now.
This means the positive cases discovered by OCHS in the wake of July 4th will mostly not be included in the state’s weekly Covid report on Thursday, July 15 — because they were found with rapid tests, so they’re still only “probable cases.” They will be included in the statewide total — but not in the county or town numbers.
“We will continue to be as transparent as possible with cases and with what’s happening in town,” Morse told the select board.
“The number only tells us so much,” Morse added. “We need to operate as if Covid exists. I just want to advise the board and the public to listen to public health experts. It’s important to get factual information out.”