The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is continuing to urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including getting booster shots as cases on the Island reach levels not seen since the summer months.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici and chief nurse and COO Claire Seguin said people should continue to monitor the hospital website as more appointments for first, second, and booster doses are added. Signups can be found at covidvaccine.massgeneralbrigham.org/Island.
The hospital’s booster appointments can often be weeks from when they are booked, so Schepici suggested that if people go off-Island, they reach out to major chain pharmacies to book a booster appointment.
The vaccine bus is returning to the Island on Saturday, Dec. 11, from 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday, Dec. 12, from 9 am to 1 pm. The bus will be parked at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in Oak Bluffs. The bus is offering vaccines to children 5 years and older, and booster shots will be available for adults. Registration is required, and can be booked at home.color.com/vaccine/register/yankeeline.
Schepici said the Island’s rate of administering vaccines to children is higher than the state, with more than 400 children vaccinated at both the hospital and the vaccine bus. “For a community that’s been vaccine-resistant for children, I was really proud to see parents stepped it up to get kids vaccinated,” she said.
The hospital has administered more than 33,000 vaccines — 14,888 first dose shots, 14,956 second dose shots, and 3,379 booster shots. Seguin said she expects the hospital will administer 600 first, second, and third booster vaccines this week.
An estimated 78 percent of the Island has been vaccinated, based on a population of 20,600, according to Seguin. In total, 98 percent of hospital employees are fully vaccinated. The other 2 percent have not received vaccinations due to medical exemptions. “For those few who have such an exemption, we take extra precautions with them to ensure safety for our patients and staff,” Seguin said.
Currently, the hospital has one patient hospitalized with COVID-19. That patient is in fair condition. In a follow-up email, communications specialist Marissa Lefebvre said the hospital was “unable to share” the vaccination status of the hospitalized patient. The two patients hospitalized with COVID earlier this week have been released.
Matching a national trend, the hospital faces staffing issues. Schepici said the Island hospital is further challenged by a lack of workforce housing. “We not only have to attract people to work here, but we have the additional pressure to identify options for housing,” she said. “Our team here is firing on all cylinders.”
Two primary care physicians have left the hospital, but Schepici said the hospital is welcoming two new physicians later this winter and in the spring.
For the first time since the end of August, positive test results for COVID-19 reached 76 cases — nearly four times as many cases as the Island reported the previous week.
There were 66 positive results at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, seven at Test MV, and three from other providers, according to Monday’s weekly report from the Island boards of health.
Of the 76 cases reported, 33 were symptomatic, seven were asymptomatic, and the status of 36 is unknown. The report states that 57 were fully vaccinated, three were partially vaccinated, 12 were unvaccinated, and four had an unknown vaccination status. The vast majority of last week’s infections are in individuals under 40 years old.
So far this week, the uptick in cases continues, with 60 new positive test results as of Wednesday.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the Island has had 2,366 total positive results, and more than 76,500 tests have been performed between the hospital, TestMV, Aquinnah, and the public schools. Despite the rise in cases, there were no additional clusters reported from last week’s test results.
The uptick in cases comes in the wake of the busy Thanksgiving week on the Island. In an email to The Times on Friday, Maura Valley, a spokesperson for the Island boards of health, wrote, “I attribute the spike in cases to people moving indoors and celebrating the holidays, whether by traveling to visit family or having family members and friends visit them.”
With other events planned for the holidays, Valley reminded folks to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID. “As has been said many times, people should wear masks when in congested areas, or in close proximity to others outside of their immediate family,” she wrote. “They should also get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already, and get a booster when they are eligible.”
Schepici attributed the Island’s skyrocketing COVID cases last week to the amount of travel on and off the Island, and people not wearing masks as much. “I’ve been in places both on- and off-Island, and people are just not wearing their masks, and that is a concern because we do know the combination of masking, vaccines, and good hygiene keeps the cases down,” she said.
It also comes as Massachusetts has reported the first case of the omicron variant. On Saturday, the state Department of Public Health issued a press release indicating that the first case of the omicron variant was detected in Massachusetts. “The individual is a female in her 20s and a resident of Middlesex County who traveled out of state. She is fully vaccinated, has experienced mild disease, and did not require hospitalization. The variant was identified through sequencing performed at New England Biolabs,” the release states.
The release goes on to say that while the omicron variant is classified by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization as a “variant of concern,” scientists are still working to determine its severity and how easily it’s transmitted. “There is some limited evidence that omicron could be more transmissible than other COVID-19 virus variants, including delta,” the release states. “This variant is being monitored closely by public health authorities around the world, and more information about what we know about omicron is available on the CDC website.”
While the omicron variant has been detected in Massachusetts, it has not been detected on Martha’s Vineyard, according to Schepici. Mass General Brigham, the hospital’s parent company, is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University Ragon Institute to detect signs of omicron in COVID samples through gene sequencing.
The release goes on to urge those who haven’t been vaccinated to get a shot, and for others to get the booster.