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Provincetown implements indoor mask mandate after COVID-19 cluster grows to 551 cases


(PROVINCETOWN, Mass.) — Officials in Provincetown, Massachusetts, voted unanimously during an emergency town meeting Sunday night to reimplement the town’s indoor mask mandate, amidst rapidly rising COVID-19 infections and community spread.

Since data was last updated last week, the cluster has grown to a cumulative total of at least 551 confirmed cases following a busy July Fourth weekend. Of these cases, 394 individuals are Massachusetts residents, 171 of whom reside in Provincetown, while the remaining individuals who tested positive reside in other states or jurisdictions.

Sixty-nine percent of confirmed cases among Massachusetts residents have occurred in individuals who were fully vaccinated, officials confirmed, and those infected have been found to be predominantly symptomatic.

In addition, officials reported that 88% of the cases are among males, and the median age of those testing positive is 39.

The new mandate will be upheld until Provincetown’s positivity rate falls below 3%, for five consecutive days, at which point it will shift to an advisory. When the town’s positivity rate dips to 1% or below, for five consecutive days, the advisory will end.

Local leaders also gave Town Manager Alex Morse the authority to implement additional measures, as needed, upon consultation with health officials, including social distancing orders and capacity requirements.

“We’re prepared to take further action, if the positive activity rate doesn’t decline,” Morse said during Sunday’s emergency meeting.

The new mandate comes as the U.S. faces a surge in new coronavirus infections, driven largely by the rapidly spreading delta variant, which now accounts for more than 83% of new cases.

Over the weekend, the country’s daily case average increased to more than 47,000 cases a day, up by 54.7% in the last week, and 314% since mid-June, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly every state in the country is now reporting an increase in cases.

Hospitalization levels are also on the rise, with now more than 27,300 patients currently receiving care around the country, which is nearly a 40% jump in the last week.

Barnstable County, which includes Provincetown, is currently reporting “high” community transmission, with the county’s daily case average is up by nearly 245% in the last seven days.

Officials stressed that although the “vast majority” of infections have been breakthrough cases, vaccinations have significantly reduced the presence of severe illness.

Three individuals have been hospitalized, one of whom was vaccinated, while the vaccination status of the other two individuals was unavailable. However, the vaccinated individual, who was hospitalized, was said to be “released rather quickly,” reported Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services.

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced on Friday that genetic sequencing of initial viral samples, associated with the cluster, had indeed tested positive for the delta variant.

“Labs identified the delta variant in cases associated with this cluster and additional specimens from the Provincetown cluster are continuing to be prioritized for sequencing. No new variants have been identified,” officials wrote in a press release.

Town leaders corroborated the findings, reporting that of the 53 cases sequenced to date, 100% of samples have come back as delta variant cases.

Officials noted that the Department of Public Health is working closely with the CDC, as well as with other state health departments, to track and monitor symptomatic cases.

The town has also resumed wastewater surveillance, in an effort to further track the spread of the virus within the community, which officials said has been a valuable surveillance tool and was conducted in Provincetown throughout the pandemic.

“COVID, unfortunately, and I think it’s depressing for many of us, isn’t going away anytime soon, and I think what Provincetown is experiencing is what other places will be experiencing, earlier,” Morse said.

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