COVID-19 patient airlifted to Boston in ‘critical condition’

Hospital urges adherence to social distancing, mask protocols.

A COVID-19 patient was airlifted to Boston on Monday. — Kyra Steck

Updated 4:35 pm

A patient who tested positive for COVID-19 was transferred to a Boston hospital in critical condition Monday night, according to hospital officials.

Speaking to reporters during a conference call Wednesday, hospital CEO and Denise Schepici and chief nurse and COO Claire Seguin said the patient was airlifted.

“We have triage protocols that we use here, whether a patient has COVID or not, to decide appropriateness for us to have them stay here at this hospital and I would say this patient was sicker than that, and really needed to go to one of the Boston hospitals,” Seguin said.

The transfer comes as the Island is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge. There have been 128 new cases since Oct. 26, when a cluster of cases linked to a wedding was first reported — 103 of which have been reported from the hospital.

Despite the unprecedented rise in cases, the hospital has not had any hospitalizations. Seguin said the reason is multifactorial, and the virus is slightly less virulent, which means more people who are contracting the virus aren’t getting as sick this time around. “It’s some of a younger population testing positive, maybe healthier,” Seguin said. “But it’s just a matter of time before it hits a vulnerable population.”

Schepici said that is not a reason for people to become less vigilant or complacent.

Schepici said the more than 10,000 deaths statewide was a staggering number that people should be taking seriously. “The statistic is important and sobering for those that think this is nothing, and it’s as bad as the flu season,” Schepici said. “I’ve never seen a flu season where we’ve had 10,000 deaths.”

She also echoed Gov. Charlie Baker’s words about those contributing to spread by not social distancing and not wearing masks. “We need to get back to the basics … wear a mask outdoors and indoors, especially near someone you’re not living with,” Schepici said. “Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

Schepici also called on the Island community to be healthy and safe, and said that while the hospital is there to support the community, she was not going to jeopardize the health and safety of her employees and the Island based on the Island’s limited capacity.

“We’re trying very hard to keep business as usual during a very unusual time,” Schepici said. “I’m not planning on closing services. But if we can’t get this thing under control, we may have to take that next step.”
She said she wants to keep her employees safe so they can take care of the community. “It’s not fair to them when people are being careless; they’re there, they have to be there, but I will not put them at risk,” Schepici. “I beg the community, I beg with everybody, please get with the guidelines.”

In total the hospital, which tests individuals based on a strict set of criteria including those who are symptomatic, has tested 7,482 individuals since testing began in March. Of those, 157 have tested positive, 7,113 have tested negative, and 212 are pending results.

As of WEdnesday, TestMV, which tests asymptomatic individuals, has tested 21,380 individuals since it began testing in May. Of those, 72 have tested positive, 20,445 negative, and 863 pending results. The TestMV numbers show an increase of four cases on Tuesday, but one of those cases was a repeat positive.

TestMV, which is returning to five-day-a-week testing amid the surge, tested 402 individuals on Tuesday. On Friday, officials at TestMV said there were 450 scheduled tests, the most tests the site has seen since the site opened.

The town of Aquinnah is also conducting its own testing. Aquinnah has tested 316 individuals with zero positives, 312 negatives, and four pending results.

The surge in cases is happening statewide. On Tuesday, the Department of Public Health reported 2,263 positive cases — a 3.25 percent positivity rate, with an estimated 32,309 active cases statewide.

The state continues to see new deaths as well, with 20 reported Tuesday, for a total of 10,360.

Of the Island’s 230 confirmed cases, 120 are female and 106 are male. Of those, 51 are in their 30s, 42 are in their 20s, 36 are in their 50s, 34 are in their 40s, 35 are younger than 20, 21 are in their 60s, and nine are older than 70.

The boards of health are also keeping track of probable cases. There are 25 probable cases reported on the Island. Of those, 21 received positive antibody tests, and four have been symptomatically diagnosed. Of those, 14 are female and 11 are male. There are seven in their 60s, five in their 20s, five in their 50s, three in their 40s, two younger than 20, two older than 70, and one in their 30s.

Maura Valley, the Tisbury health agent, updated the town’s select board on the town’s move into a high-risk category. “I want to assure the board and the public that the board of health is not ignoring the current surge, or minimizing what’s going on there. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the health departments have really worked together to look at Martha’s Vineyard as one community,” she said. “As we know, we can’t make decisions in one town when we’re talking about something that’s contagious, because it doesn’t know the town boundaries. We really need to work on this unified, and make decisions on an Island-wide basis.”

Health agents and town administrators were scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss what they need to look at in terms of emergency regulations or any rollbacks. She said the health agents and town administrators would talk and bring back recommendations to the respective boards for further discussion.

She said the health boards are working with the hospital, schools, and Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association. They are also reaching out to English as second language groups and clergy, to connect with the Brazilian community.

She said building departments are playing a key role in inspecting job sites to make sure they’re following mask and other safety protocols. “A lot of what we’re seeing right now is in the trades, so we really want to get that message out,” Valley said. “The message that we’re really focusing on to people is that you have some personal responsibility. If you want to go to work and have your kids go to school, what you do in your social life and outside matters. You really need to choose your risks carefully.”

Valley said she expects the town to remain in the red for the coming weeks. Once the town has been in the high-risk category for three weeks, it will have to roll back from Phase 3, Step 2, to Phase 3, Step 1. That means as of Nov. 30, Tisbury will have to close indoor venues; outdoor theater performance venues will be reduced to 25 percent capacity, with no more than 50 people;, outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people; and gyms, libraries, and museums will have to reduce capacities to 40 percent.

For the two-week period ending Nov. 7, the town had 30 cases. The two-week period ending Nov. 14, the town had 39 cases. Currently, for the two-week period that ends next Saturday, Tisbury is at 23 cases, as of Tuesday. She said she expects there will be at least two additional cases between now and Saturday.

The select board voted unanimously to use CARES Act money to do additional contract tracing through the health department.

“It was really disappointing that we got through the summer only to be hit with this in the off-season,” Valley said.

As a result of the surge in cases, Tisbury Town Hall is open by appointment only, town administrator Jay Grande said.

Updated to include current COVID-19 case numbers. — Ed.