During a press briefing Wednesday morning, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital officials revealed that between April and June, staff members were infected by COVID 79 times, including hospital CEO Denise Schepici, who just came off a five-day quarantine period on Tuesday.
This news comes as a surge in COVID-19 cases arrived on the Island, where cases reached 152 last week, and this week there have been 40 cases reported through Tuesday. The Island remains at medium risk for spread, according to CDC guidelines.
“Even though we thought COVID was starting to give us a break, it has not. We’re seen a rise in cases on the Island and among our staff,” Schepici, who is vaccinated and boosted, said. “But hospitalizations so far are not rising due to COVID.”
According to the numbers provided by Martha’s Vineyard hospital chief nurse and chief operations officer, Claire Seguin, 14 staff members were infected by COVID in April, 29 in May, and so far, 36 in June. Eight staff members of Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were also infected.
“Our teams follow the COVID protocol when they test positive,” Seguin said, which includes quarantining for five days and “until they test negative or enough time has passed, which usually is around 10 days.” She also said the summer is the busiest time for the hospital, which places a strain on the short-staffed hospital.
The rise in COVID cases accompanies the increase in patients coming into the hospital’s emergency department. Seguin emphasized that people should take a COVID test, and stay at home “until emergency care is necessary.”
Currently, there are two patients hospitalized for COVID who are in “fair condition,” according to Seguin. This year, there have also been three COVID-positive transfers. One was a pediatric patient in severe condition who had COVID as the primary diagnosis, and two were adults who had COVID as the secondary diagnosis.
Another concern Schepici mentioned is the rise of two subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, of COVID’s omicron variant.
“They’re relatively new subvariants, appear to be highly infectious, and appear to evade any immunity the population has built up through vaccination, even if you’ve gotten the virus,” she said. “Scientists stress you can be reinfected by the virus through one of these [subvariants]. Researchers in Massachusetts are projecting these new [subvariants] will account for more than 90 percent of COVID cases by mid-July.”
An upside is that so far, these subvariants do not seem to be “as severe as COVID variants in the early days of the pandemic,” according to Schepici, who urged people to get vaccinated and to get their booster shots, alongside wearing a mask in crowded areas.
“We know vaccines can be helpful, especially if you contract the virus. They can limit its severity and impact,” she said. “Think ahead if you’re going to public places, indoor areas, or any gatherings this summer, and consider wearing a mask. If you feel you have symptoms, take a test. They can be as simple as a runny nose and a scratchy throat, like I had.”
Schepici said Martha’s Vineyard Hospital will continue to “look toward the state Department of Public Health for guidance,” alongside coordinating with the Island’s health centers and Mass General Brigham against COVID.
According to Seguin, the hospital now also offers pediatric COVID vaccines for patients 6 months to 5 years of age. As of Tuesday, June 28, the hospital has administered the first dose of the COVID vaccine to 95 percent of Dukes County’s population. 59 percent of the Dukes County population is fully vaccinated with a booster.
When asked whether there was a concern that the true number of cases is unknown since so many people do at-home tests for COVID, Schepici said, “That’s just a reality.”
“I think we have to just assume the infection’s out there, and it is what it is,” Schepici said.
“I think it’s OK so long as people, as Denise mentioned, follow the precautions once they do test positive at home,” Seguin added.
For those who want to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated, visit the hospital’s website at bit.ly/3a1YfAs. New appointments are released on Fridays after 4 pm. Children who are under 2 years old will be brought into the clinic to be vaccinated, while older children will receive their vaccines at the drive-through tents on Thursday mornings.