This week's update is a little bit interesting, with some mixed messages! The 7-day and 14-day average of new cases per day are slightly down from last week, as is the percent positivity. However, the number of new cases last week and the total number of active cases is higher than last week. This indicates that next week we'll probably see an increase in at least the 7-day average of new cases per day. We know that the case rate on the dashboard only includes confirmed (PCR tested) cases, however - the question is, what does this mean for actual community transmission in Easthampton? My best guess, given wastewater surveillance data and the trends in cases and hospitalizations in our larger area, is that Easthampton is experiencing a slow and steady increase in community transmission.
There are again some pieces of good news to focus on! Hospitalizations are increasing in MA and in Western Mass, but so far we are not seeing an increase in patients in the ICU. This is good news, both from the perspective of not wanting folks to be severely ill, but also in the context of burden on the healthcare system. I'm also encouraged by the slow rate of increase in cases. It's very clear that this increase is quite different from the initial surge of the omicron variant.
Hampshire county remains in the medium category of transmission according to the CDC. The official CDC recommendation for our county is for folks who are high risk or who live with someone who is high risk to wear a mask while indoors. More counties in New England have been upgraded to the high category of transmission in the last week, including most of Massachusetts. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking in those communities - something to keep in mind if you are traveling in New England in the coming days.
Will Hampshire county get elevated to the high transmission in the coming weeks? The answer depends on hospitalizations in our area. Counties with case rates over 28.6 new cases per day per 100k population are automatically in the medium transmission category. At that point, a county is elevated to the high transmission category if there are more than 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day per 100k population or if more than 10% of the hospital beds in the county are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
COVID Act Now has updated their tracking system to reflect the CDC categories, which gives us a great visual of how close our county is to going into that high transmission category. This visual is in the center of the dashboard this week - here we can see that the case rate is in the "yellow" medium risk category, but that there are 5.7 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day per 100k population - well under the threshold of 10 differentiating the medium and high categories - and that 3.7% of all beds in Hampshire county are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients - again, well under the threshold of 10% differentiating the medium and high categories. Hopefully this analysis helps you determine your personal level of risk right now and helps you make decisions on behaviors like masking indoors.
In somber news, the US is closely approaching 1 million (official) COVID-19 deaths. An estimated 9 million Americans are mourning a loved one lost to the virus. We know very little about long COVID, although studies are underway to try to get this information. And finally, the Biden administration is predicting a fall surge. I think it's too early for us to be sure about when and if there will be another major surge. I do think it's wise to try to prepare for whatever is coming next because, remember, we know what to do to have some control over our personal risk - get vaccinated and boosted, wear a high-quality mask, and stay outside or in well-ventilated places.
Megan W. Harvey, PhD (she/her)