Covid cases continue to rise; health officials ‘at wit’s end’

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/17/2021 2:52:56 PM
Modified: 9/17/2021 2:53:02 PM

ATHOL — Last week, on Saturday, Sept. 11, the Athol Daily News reported 56 active cases of COVID-19 in Athol. This week, with vaccination rates remaining low, the number increased significantly, according to Athol Health Agent Deb Vondal.

“Right now, we have 78 active cases,” Vondal said on Wednesday, Sept. 15. “It’s a fluid number as we’re getting new cases in all the time, and then cases are being cleared. But since Aug. 1, we’ve had 140 cases. So, over about six weeks we’ve had 140 active cases.

“For today, five cases cleared. But then we had six new ones.”

Vondal said she was unable at the time of the interview to say exactly how many of the newest cases are in children under 18 years of age.

“Again, that’s a fluid number,” she said. “I think the last time I looked, which was two days ago (Sept. 13), I believe there were 10 under the age of 18.”

Misinformation and disinformation, said Vondal, continue to be roadblocks to getting people vaccinated.

“Even if people believe they’re being injected with some kind of chip,” she continued, “I would ask the person, ‘Do you have a cell phone?’ Because we’re already being tracked all the time by our cell phones.

“And these are vials. You’re pulling several doses out of each vial. Depending on which one it is — say, you’re pulling out six doses — how could you even be sure to get a chip in each one of those doses? The thought of it is just ridiculous.”

She noted that some people claimed to be waiting for formal approval of the vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration before getting their shots.

“People used that excuse. Pfizer is now FDA-approved. People have said, ‘Oh, it’s not approved.’ Well, it is approved.”

The big question for health professionals right now is, said Vondal, “How do you counter all of the misinformation? Even if you put out factual stuff, it’s really difficult to change people’s minds at this point — I guess unless or until it hits close to home for themselves.

“Don’t get your information from Facebook or something a friend of yours says or posts. Who knows where most of that information — disinformation, really — is even coming from.”

She said she’s cautiously hopeful that President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, as well as for businesses with over 100 employees, might boost the rate in our area.

Asked if public health officials are discouraged by having to fight the avalanche of misinformation and disinformation prompting so much resistance to vaccines, Vondal said, “We’re at our wit’s end.”

Vondal has had to go so far as to add the following disclaimer at the end of her posts on the Athol Board of Health Facebook page: “Any misinformation posted on this page will be deleted.”

Vondal then again underlined the importance of getting vaccinated.

“The vaccine is still our number-one tool at this point to prevent Covid transmission,” she stressed. “Yes, there are some breakthrough cases. It’s still a small percentage and it’s preventing, for a majority of people, serious disease — I’m talking hospitalization and death.”

Vondal said a couple of sources people can check to get hard facts about the vaccines include the state Department of Health website and that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s Weekly Municipality Covid-19 Vaccination Report for Thursday, Sept. 16, indicated that the number of eligible individuals in the 01331 ZIP code who have received at least one shot edged up by a mere percentage point — from 58 to 59 percent — over the previous week. Only 42 percent of those 12 to 15 years of age, and 47 percent of those between the ages of 16 and 29, have been vaccinated. The overall rate for Athol and Phillipston lags far behind the state average of 73 percent.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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