COVID-19 cases spike to new high in Athol

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 10/29/2020 9:38:28 AM
Modified: 10/29/2020 9:38:22 AM

ATHOL — “As of today, we added four more cases (of COVID-19), so we stand at 108 cases to date; 96 have been cleared. So, we currently have 12 active cases.”

That was the news given to Athol’s Board of Health Tuesday afternoon by Health Agent Deb Vondal.

“There have been nine new ones since Saturday,” she continued.

That number pushes Athol to a new one-day high for active cases.

“The transmission is all over the place,” she said. “But what stands out also, and the people have to remember this, there is a lot of household transmission. The four cases that came up today are additional cases at a specific location.

“I’ve said this before: if somebody tests positive for COVID — in their house, in their apartment, wherever you are — in some cases — in lots of cases, it seems — it’s hard to totally isolate from other members of your family. So, there is transmission to the other people.”

In response to a question from board member Joan Hamlett, Vondal said Athol currently has three households with multiple transmissions, accounting for seven of the 12 active cases in town.

“Currently,” Vondal added, “there were two positive cases at the school district and, as of today, there are still only two confirmed positive cases there.

“Part of the reason the whole fifth-grade class is remote, is due to the difficulty — part of it is logistical — of not having enough substitute teachers. At the middle school, students usually go to different teachers for different subjects.

“Rather than having all those students crowding around in the hallways and potentially causing even more contact, the teachers have been moving classroom to classroom. So, it was easier just to move them all for two weeks to remote so the teachers can still teach and everyone stays home.”

Vondal said the district is following policies that were established by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Public Health.

“I was notified on Sunday and action was taken on Monday morning,” she said, adding that “an individual (first grade) class at ACES (Athol Community Elementary School) is remote.”

She was quick to point out that, as of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no further school transmissions.

“We have community transmission going on,” Vondal continued, “and household transmission going on. Those two students were the result of household transmission. I’m not surprised that this could happen, just like somebody could be positive at a workplace.”

Hamlett interjected that the 12 active cases on record Tuesday was the highest single-day number recorded in Athol since the start of the pandemic. The number puts Athol just one more case shy of the level the town would need to reach to be placed in the state’s “red zone” or “high risk” category.

“This is pretty high,” said Vondal. “This hasn’t happened since springtime. We’ve never — during the whole summer — had this number of cases. The last time we had this number of currently active cases was in the spring during the initial surge.”

One big reason for the sudden increase, said Vondal: complacency.

“That, unfortunately, is happening,” she said. “Just before this meeting, I was listening to the governor’s press conference and they are continuing to emphasize that the main problem right now is informal settings and gatherings, where people are together for an extended period of time. They’re not using masks and they’re not social distancing.

“Right now, the largest number of cases are for those 30 years old and younger. But the problem there is, they may not be the ones that get the sickest, or they may be asymptomatic. This is where personal responsibility is so important.”

She emphasized, as she has since the beginning of the pandemic, that masks are social distancing are simple yet crucial prevention strategies.

“You may not be worried about yourself,” said Vondal, “but if you have COVID and then you go to these gatherings, you might not know if someone is a vulnerable person with an underlying medical condition. You can’t always tell by looking at somebody.

“Or you go visit an older parent or an aunt or an uncle, you could be potentially passing on COVID to them.”

The Health Agent again urged people to wear masks, maintain social distancing, wash their hands and, when possible, to stay home.

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