As of June 15, just over two years since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Franklin County, a total of 7,619 cases have been reported between Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield and Sunderland – the four cities benefiting from a public health department of $250,000. grant for experience and contact tracing efforts.
“The three nurses you have working … just doing yeoman work on contact tracing,” Jack Sullivan, the epidemiologist working with the four communities through the grant, said at a meeting of the Greenfield Board of Health this week. “They reach about 40% of the cases that present themselves, and that is essential. It really helps a lot to get an overview of what is going on.
Sullivan – who provided an overview of the community’s current situation, where it is and how it is changing in relation to the pandemic – noted that the 7,619 cases are likely not exhaustive, given the large number of tests at home. not reported combined with early reluctance to test young children.
“We’re trying to find a way to get people to report (home results) more,” he noted. “We know there are (many more cases) because of what the sewage reports tell us.”
Breaking down the numbers further, Sullivan said about 22% of the population in those four communities have been infected since the pandemic began. Of the four municipalities, Greenfield had the highest infection rate, at nearly 24%. Around 20% of residents in Deerfield and Montague had been infected and around 22% in Sunderland.
“We think part of the reason Greenfield is a bit higher is due to the availability of testing,” Sullivan said.
Referring to a graph displaying trends in cases over the past two years, Sullivan noted the effect mitigation strategies — such as masking and social distancing — have had on case counts throughout the pandemic. The graph also included trends associated with Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education protocols. He also indicated the points on the graph where testing availability increased, which he said should not be used as an indicator that there was more COVID-19 in the community at any given time, but rather than more cases being detected.
As health officials look to the fall, Sullivan suggested prioritizing contact tracing, especially during surges, with “source investigation” as a secondary priority.
“We don’t want to close (businesses),” he said. “We want to make sure we get the message across that we want to keep people open.”
Regarding the establishment of mitigation protocols using trigger points for implementation, Sullivan stressed that the idea is not to go back to the early days of the pandemic, when the community was invited to stay at home. He also advised health officials to work with area businesses to provide mitigation education, including ventilation checks and monitoring of personal contracts.
Sullivan also recommended renewed attention to the unvaccinated population, noting that the Novavax vaccine was recently recommended for emergency use authorization by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
“One of the things we want to try to do is education without advocacy,” Sullivan said.
And finally, he recommended increasing pop-up vaccination and testing sites through partnerships with private agencies and the public.
“Vaccines reduce severity,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we have to mandate this. … Education is imperative. Advocacy is not.
Meanwhile, contact tracing efforts continue with the support of the $250,000 grant from the Department of Public Health, which was awarded in November 2021. The grant will be spent evenly over two years.
Responding to a question from Greenfield Board of Health Chair Nancee Bershof about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection, Sullivan said that of the 7,619 reported cases, 11.8% were in people entirely vaccinated, which does not include booster shots. Still, the vaccine has been shown to reduce severity.
“I’ve been through this myself – I had COVID…about a month and a half ago,” he said. “It never progressed much beyond a minor cold.”
Greenfield Health Director Jennifer Hoffman echoed Sullivan’s recommendation to encourage self-contact tracing and reporting of home test results, noting that the latest home antigen test delivery includes a sticker with a number to call in case of a positive result.
She also stressed the need to educate businesses in the area, especially as we approach fall when more indoor activity resumes.
“Again, the contract tracers that we have, I can’t say enough,” Hoffman added. “At the very beginning, we all did it. (Megan Tudryn) works endless hours, as well as (Robin Neipp) and (Mary Ellen Sloan), reaching…thousands of people. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am.
Journalist Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne