With the rapid surge in confirmed cases of COVID-19 — 101 over a seven-day period reported by the boards of health and then 32 more in the last four days — Martha’s Vineyard Hospital officials have reached out to state officials to begin testing for COVID variants, which are known to be more contagious.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, hospital CEO Denise Schepici and nurse and chief operating officer Claire Seguin said it is not known if any COVID variants have made it to the Island.
“We have asked the state to help with some further testing of our current COVID positives to find out if that is the case,” Schepici said. “We do know that the so-called P-1 variant first found in travelers from Brazil is prevalent on the Cape.”
She said the P-1 variant has been detected in Massachusetts more than in any other state in the country.
Seguin said the hospital reached out to the state epidemiologist, who is conducting the only variant testing in the state. The hospital worked with the boards of health to send samples to the state, and expects to hear back by the end of this week.
“What’s concerning about the variants is they’re known to be more virulent, more contagious, and also they are linked to people getting sicker, higher mortality and morbidity,” Seguin said. “We’re very worried about it; especially when you have a lot of cases come back positive all at once, you do worry there is a more virulent version of COVID-19 on the Island.”
The majority of cases from the recent surge are people 40 years old and younger, according to Schepici. “I think it’s a lot of the workers coming back to the Island. I don’t have absolute proof of that, but it seems that’s related to it,” Schepici said. “Also I think people are also having a little false sense of security because the vaccination is out there.”
She stressed that even when someone gets a vaccine they can still be carriers of the virus, and urged people to wear masks, socially distance, and wash their hands.
The hospital booked 673 first-dose appointments on Monday, but does not know how many to expect for the next set of appointments available Saturday. It is dependent each week on how much vaccine supply the federal government ships to the state, and what the state supplies the hospital. Seguin said the hospital is getting roughly 1,200 to 1,300 vaccine doses each week, but that number fluctuates.
The hospital has administered a total of 14,140 vaccines — 7,125 first doses and 7,015 second doses. Seguin estimates that 40 percent of Dukes County has received the first dose, and 28 percent are fully vaccinated. Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting a second dose.
As of Tuesday, the hospital has administered 15,863 tests since testing began in March. Of those, 800 are positive, 14,963 are negative, and 92 are pending results. There have been no hospitalizations in the past two weeks, and no COVID-related transfers.
“Patience is perhaps the best antidote for those who have not received their vaccine dose yet,” Schepici said.
She did add that if Islanders can get a vaccine appointment off-Island, they should absolutely take it.
For now, the hospital is also sticking with its current sign-up process on Saturdays at 8 am and Mondays at 5 pm. Seguin said that while the hospital understands the public’s frustration, the current system is the best option for the hospital.
Cases, clusters rise
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed over the last 11 days, with the Martha’s Vineyard boards of health reporting 133 new cases between March 28 and April 7, 101 of those cases during a seven-day period.
The 101 new cases are more than double the 47 new cases reported during the week of March 21 to 27, and more than the next highest weekly total this year, which was 99 cases reported during the first week of January.
Clusters of cases continue to appear and grow across the Island, with a new seven-case cluster connected to the Barn Bowl & Bistro — four staff members and three family members. On Monday, boards of health spokesperson Maura Valley reported that there were nine cases, but said Tuesday two individuals were incorrectly entered into the database.
According to a Facebook post, the Barn restaurant remains closed for the next few days. A cluster at Shirley’s Hardware has grown to six cases, and a cluster of cases linked to King’s Barbershop grew to eight.
The Island has had five other clusters, including an October wedding (eight cases), Cronig’s Market (19 cases), a Bible study group (11 cases), M.V. Hospital (five cases), and Project Headway (four cases).
A cluster is defined as more than two people from different families or households with a shared source of infection.
In total, there have been 1,129 confirmed positive results on the Island since testing began in March — 564 males and 565 females. There have also been 67 probable cases — 38 male and 29 female. There have been 398 cases — 36 percent of the total — that have been linked to at least one other case. In most instances those involved family members or small social groups.
Meanwhile, TestMV, which is located in the parking lot at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, has now administered 36,318 tests, with 295 positive results, 35,525 negative results, and 498 tests pending.
The town of Aquinnah has conducted 444 self-administered tests, of which one has come back positive, 441 negative, and two pending results.
The Martha’s Vineyard public schools have administered 9,469 tests. Of those, seven have tested positive.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has reported a total of seven positive cases of COVID-19.
Due to how tests are conducted, there can be a discrepancy between the number of positive individuals and the number of positive tests reported.
Vaccine eligibility expanded Monday to those ages 55 and older. The next round of vaccine appointments at the hospital will be made available for sign-up on Saturday, April 10, at 8 am. Eligible individuals can sign up at bit.ly/mvhospitalvaccine.
Those eligible for vaccines include those over the age of 55, individuals over 18 with two chronic health conditions, adults working in public and private senior housing, K-12 educators and staff, childcare workers, and workers in the following categories: restaurants, cafes, food, agriculture, retail, food service, grocery, convenience stores, food pantries, transit, public works, sanitation, public health, the court system, and funeral services.