WELLFLEET — The number of new cases of Covid-19 was down slightly this week, according to the town’s health agent, Hillary Greenberg-Lemos, following the emergence of a cluster of cases that worried officials and led to the reinstatement of town-wide mask rules at an emergency meeting of the board of health on Oct. 7.
That good news was tempered, however, by the fact that a Covid-related death — the second in Wellfleet since the pandemic began — was reported on Oct. 17.
As of Tuesday, Oct. 26, there were 13 reported cases of Covid infection in Wellfleet, down from 31 active cases two weeks earlier, according to the health agent.
While Wellfleet requires that masks be worn indoors everywhere in town, Greenberg-Lemos said, the town has not yet deployed any vaccine-focused strategies such as the voluntary “Stop the Spread” certificate program instituted in Provincetown after a July outbreak there. In Provincetown, businesses can opt into the program and receive certification from the town’s board of health verifying that the managers require all staff to be vaccinated, or require proof of vaccination to enter, or both.
Employers in Massachusetts may require their employees to be vaccinated, but calls to several businesses in town suggested that it is not common practice here.
The Wellfleet Marketplace, Box Lunch Wellfleet, and the Wellfleet Cinemas all confirmed that they are not asking employees to be vaccinated.
The cinemas “did invest $10,000 in a better filtration system,” said John Vincent, president of Wellfleet Theaters.
The Blue Willow Cafe was the only business reached in town that had an employee vaccination policy in place. Other establishments said such a policy wasn’t needed.
JB’s Pizza and Bar manager Ylli Sadiku said he didn’t require it, but his staff is fully vaccinated. “We requested them to get vaccinated because we are a pizza place and a lot of people are in and out,” he said. “We have a very nice staff and they all complied easily.”
“Unfortunately or fortunately, we had a Covid scare back in April and that took care of any staff reticence towards the vaccine,” wrote Eliza Fitts and Ken Kozack, owners of the Wicked Oyster, in an email to the Independent. “Now our whole staff is vaccinated, so we haven’t had to put a mandate in place. Going forward, we would want and expect potential new hires to be vaccinated.”
Several other establishments, including CShore and the Bookstore & Restaurant, did not respond to inquiries from a reporter by press time.
The Bomb Shelter Pub, in the basement of the Bookstore & Restaurant, closed a few days after the death on Oct. 17 of owner Caroline Parlante from sepsis related to Covid-19 pneumonia, according to her death certificate. On the door of the bar was a notice about a celebration of life in her honor, and a sign stating the business was closed. (See obituary on page A14.)
In the Schools
Wellfleet Elementary School nurse Claudia Cope-Crosen reported two active Covid-19 cases this week, marking 12 cases in total so far this school year. Several of those students live in the same household, she said. She added that she is contact-tracing several more potential cases, yet to be confirmed.
“This is way different than what happened last year,” said Cope-Crosen. “I was completely prepared for this last year. We had all of the safety protocols in place.”
The school had a total of four Covid cases in the last school year. Cope-Crosen attributed the uptick two months into the school year to students being present in person all day every day, with no option of remote learning, and to the increased contagiousness of the Delta variant.
So far, the nurse said, the students’ cases have been mild, with many showing cold-like symptoms for a few days. She noted that many cases don’t seem linked. “I’m not seeing a common thread, like a super-spreader event,” she said.
The school has adopted the state’s “Test and Stay” program for students in “close contact.” The state Dept. of Education defines “close contact” as being within six feet of a Covid-19 positive person while indoors for at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period.
The “Test and Stay” program, initiated on Oct. 5 after a positive case was identified in the fifth grade, involves collecting nasal swab samples from students using the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test, Cope-Crosen said. One case has been identified through the program, and two students were identified as close contacts who shortly after become symptomatic, she added.
Tests are administered daily from the first day of exposure for at least five days. The program applies only to close contacts identified at school, not if the student was exposed outside the school, Cope-Crosen said.
In case of a positive case in school, the nurse sends a notice to families saying whether their children were identified as close contacts or not. “The schools tend to know much more quickly in the contact-tracing world than the state,” she said, “typically because parents contact the nurse directly.
“It’s important for parents to not send their kids to school if they’re feeling sick, and it’s really important for parents to not underestimate and say, ‘It’s just allergies,’ ” she added.
Outside the Test and Stay program, Outer Cape Health Services provides free testing weekly in both Provincetown and Wellfleet.