Island Responds To New Surge Of COVID-19

Town and school officials are responding to a spike in COVID-19 cases on Nantucket over the past week, with the Board of Health set to meet Thursday to consider any emergency orders in response to the escalating number of positive tests. 

Jerico Mele, the town of Nantucket’s human services director, briefed the Select Board on the situation Wednesday evening. There have been 72 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed over the past week through PCR testing. That number does not include rapid antigen tests, Mele said, so “the number of positives is absolutely higher than 72.”

The latest sampling report of island wastewater was also released Wednesday. 

“It shows the single largest one-week spike increase yet, both in absolute number, the total amount of virus found in the wastewater system, and in relative value compared to other towns doing testing,” Mele said. “We have significantly increased the amount of COVID, it’s a steady build, and we’re far enough out from Stroll and Thanksgiving that this is most certainly community spread.”

The wastewater report put Nantucket in the 67th percentile for virus concentration compared to other towns that conduct wastewater sampling with the company Biobot. That exceeds the Board of Health’s threshold (the 50th percentile) to trigger an automatic return of the island’s indoor mask mandate. However, Nantucket Health Department Director Roberto Santamaria said he wanted to hold off on an automatic implementation until the Board of Health meets Thursday to review the policy. 

Nantucket Cottage Hospital public information manager James Lanza told the Current that there have been three people hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past week. 

While no Nantucket COVID-19 tests have undergone genetic sequencing to test for the presence of the omicron variant, Mele said the numbers indicate that it is an “extremely safe bet that it (omicron) is responsible for the increase in new cases.”

Nantucket Public Schools Superintendent Beth Hallett sent a message to parents and guardians Wednesday reporting 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students from Dec. 10 to Dec. 15. 

“Going forward, it is imperative that we all take strict precautions around proper mask wearing,” Hallett said. “All students and staff must wear their masks appropriately (covering nose and mouth) at all times while in the building. Refusal to comply will result in disciplinary action.”

As part of the school district’s response to the situation, the athletic department announced Wednesday afternoon that spectators will not be allowed to attend any Nantucket Public School Whaler sporting events until further notice, beginning with today’s boys hockey game. The decision will be reevaluated following the winter break.

The latest rise in COVID-19 cases comes in spite of Nantucket’s high vaccination rate, which is among the best in the state. Town and hospital officials have emphasized, however, that the island’s success in vaccinating a high percentage of the population has prevented severe illness and deaths.

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