Booster shots on the horizon

Busy summer season, COVID hospitalizations have hospital brushing against capacity limits.

The hospital is reaching its capacity limits.

As new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, and amid the spread of the Delta variant, the federal government is thinking of approving a third dose, or booster shot, of the COVID vaccine.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici said the hospital is adjusting its schedule and increasing outreach to prepare for a booster shot rollout. There is no approval or timetable for a booster shot from the government yet, but third doses would be for patients who received the Pfizer or Moderna shots. Those individuals would only be eligible for a booster shot eight months after their second dose.

There are some individuals who are eligible for a booster shot now, according to Schepici. “We will be calling them. The hospital will reach out and schedule an appointment for a third dose. We know who these individuals are, based on their medical history. There are a couple hundred patients that are eligible,” she said.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced Wednesday their plans for booster shots. The plan calls for individuals who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to get a booster shot eight months after their second dose beginning Sept. 20.

Chief nurse and COO Claire Seguin urged those who have not received a vaccine to make an appointment to get one. Over the past weeks, the hospital has seen an increase in individuals getting their first dose of the vaccine. Of the newly vaccinated individuals, Seguin said there was some vaccine hesitancy, and many younger people who are returning to school.

Rollout for a booster shot would be similar to the regular vaccine rollout, with elderly and higher-risk individuals eligible first.

The hospital is seeing its highest concentration of COVID activity at the hospital since the pandemic began. Coupled with an increase in emergency room visits, the hospital is brushing against its capacity limits. Those who do go to the hospital can expect up to two- to three-hour waits for nonemergency cases.

“We are bursting at the seams, just to put it bluntly,” Schepici said. She added there have been days where the hospital has deferred some elective patients because every inpatient bed and the emergency bay are full to the point where patients are waiting on stretchers in the emergency room.

There are three patients with COVID-19 hospitalized at the Island’s hospital, and one who is “under investigation,” which means they are awaiting lab results or have COVID symptoms. “One of those patients is in serious condition, two are in fair, and one is in good,” Seguin said.

There has also been one critical COVID transfer. That patient was transferred last week.

Due to the hospital’s full house, Schepici stressed that people experiencing COVID symptoms should stay home and follow Centers for Disease Control guidance unless they feel extremely sick.

COVID-19 cases crescendoed last week, with 87 new cases reported by the Martha’s Vineyard boards of health — 39 more cases than the previous week.

Of the 87 new cases, 72 were reported at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, seven at TestMV, six at the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and two at other providers. There are 74 cases still being monitored by public health officials, six that have recovered, and seven lost to follow-up from health officials.

There were 43 symptomatic cases, five asymptomatic, and 39 unknown. Of last week’s cases, 42 were fully vaccinated, 20 unvaccinated, and 25 unknown.

So far this week, there have been 48 new positive results — five on Sunday, 11 on Monday, 10 on Tuesday, and 22 on Wednesday. All but 10 of the cases were reported by the hospital.

Hospital officials have confirmed that the Delta variant is present on the Island. Only four cases have been confirmed, out of six samples tested for the variant. Health officials believe the current uptick in cases is related to the more contagious Delta variant.

This is the third week in a row that cases have nearly doubled from the previous week. Last week’s 87 cases are the third-highest weekly total reported this year, behind 101 cases in late March and 99 cases in early January.

The majority of new cases are from younger individuals. There were 26 in their 20s and 19 in their 30s.

Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters during an unrelated briefing Monday that he has no plans to change the state’s mask guidance, according to the Boston Globe. “I’m not considering changing the mask guidance … at this time,” Baker said, according to reports. “The fact that so many people in Massachusetts have been vaccinated, and that is real tribute to the enthusiasm that the people of this commonwealth showed to getting vaccinated, has put us in a dramatically different place than many other states across this country.”

Island health officials approved an indoor mask mandate for all down-Island towns.

The Island has reported 12 COVID clusters since the pandemic began. Three new clusters were reported last week — Alchemy (15 cases all staff), Port Hunter (four cases, one probable), and Harbor View Hotel (six confirmed, four probable). Alchemy’s cluster grew by one case and Harbor View’s grew by four.

Past clusters include an October wedding (eight cases), Cronig’s Market (19 cases), a Bible study group (11 cases), M.V. Hospital (five cases), Project Headway (four cases), King’s barbershop (eight cases), Shirley’s Hardware (all six staff), the Barn Bowl & Bistro (nine cases), and Cardboard Box (three).

A cluster is defined as more than two people from different families or households with a shared source of infection. 

TestMV and the hospital have seen an increase in demand for COVID testing over the past week.

The hospital has administered 33,000 vaccine doses — 19,827 first doses and 13,927 second doses as of August 9. According to Seguin, 95 percent of the Island’s population has received their first dose, and 88 percent are fully vaccinated.

As of August 13, the hospital has administered a total of 23,846 COVID tests. Of those, 2,017 are positives and 21,821 are negatives. 

The TestMV site has administered a total of 40,589 COVID tests. Of those, 405 are positives, and 40,184 are negatives. 

The town of Aquinnah has administered 556 tests, with three positive results.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has reported a total of 22 positive cases of COVID-19.

There were 18 positive tests reported at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, from a total of 16,122 tested. 

Due to how tests are conducted, there can be a discrepancy between the number of positive individuals and the number of positive tests reported.