COVID infection rates still high in area, vaccination rates still lagging


For the Athol Daily News
Published: 10/18/2021 2:13:01 PM
Modified: 10/18/2021 2:13:02 PM

ATHOL — Heywood Healthcare President and CEO Win Brown continues to be the bearer of what most people would determine to be bad news. In his weekly briefing on Friday, Oct. 15, Brown reported that the overall cumulative rate of those testing positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic has actually ticked up to 4.9 percent, compared to the state average of 2.8 percent. The overall increase comes despite the fact that the positivity rate for the previous week inched down about a half a point, to 9.14 percent. Statewide, however, the figure as of Friday stood at just 1.88 percent.

“So, when you watch the news and they talk about the trends going down,” Brown cautioned, “we are an outlier in our region. Everybody needs to know that the Delta variant is alive and well, and you need to be paying attention to it, even if you’re vaccinated. And if you’re not vaccinated, you need to go to CVS or Walgreen’s and get vaccinated. Just get that done.”

Brown said he recognizes there are many people who believe they don’t need the vaccine.

“The trouble is,” he said, “you’re also exposing a lot of kids to it. The number of adolescents that are coming through positive every day is crazy. And that’s because the adults around them aren’t vaccinated.”

The frustration in Brown’s voice was obvious.

“I know this falls on deaf ears for a lot of people because they are nonbelievers or whatever, but you’re riding off of the herd immunity that myself and my friends and colleagues who are vaccinated. It would actually be much worse if we weren’t vaccinated.

“So, if you’re a grandmother or a grandfather or a parent, influence the younger generation to get vaccinated. If we get that done, this will all disappear.”

Brown did have a bit of positive news to report. As of Oct. 15, Heywood Hospital was caring for nine COVID patients, which is down from the high of 16 the previous week. But, he noted, the number of cases tends to fluctuate either way from week to week. He noted that the incidence rate for the region has decreased slightly in the past week but, he added, “we still outpace almost all the Commonwealth.”

Figures released by the state Department of Public Health last week show that positive cases in the Gardner-Athol region continue to move in the wrong direction. As of Thursday, Oct. 14, Athol has seen a total of 1,181 COVID cases since the start of the pandemic; that’s up by 43 cases from the week before. Other communities seeing a significant hike include: Gardner – 53, Phillipston – 12, Templeton – 25, and Winchendon – 28. The DPH statistics show Royalston holding steady at 91 total cases over the past three weeks, while Petersham saw an increase of just three cases in the week ending Oct. 14.

The vaccination rate in the region continues to lag that of the state, which is 74 percent. As of Oct. 14, the number of eligible Athol residents who have received at least one vaccine crept up slightly to 62 percent. Gardner has reached the 70 percent mark. Orange is at 60 percent, Petersham 67 percent, Templeton 56 percent, and Winchendon is mired at 54 percent. The total for Worcester County currently stands at 69 percent.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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