GREENFIELD — As COVID-19 resurges in the Northeast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has elevated Franklin County’s COVID-19 Community Level to “high,” the agency’s highest-risk assessment.
With the designation of the county as high-risk for exposure to COVID-19, the CDC recommends residents wear a mask while indoors in public, get vaccinated (or get a booster shot if eligible) and take any additional virus precautions, including getting tested for the virus, avoiding crowds and remaining socially distant from others.
Dr. Armando Paez, Baystate Health’s chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, said cases are rising “across the board” in the region, the state and the country. While case numbers are increasing, Paez noted these cases are less severe “compared to prior surges” and the key factor for everybody is “knowing your own health.”
“It’s out in the community,” Paez said. “If you are unvaccinated, immunocompromised and if you have risk factors for severe illness … you should really take precautions.”
Paez said there is currently one person with COVID-19 in Baystate Health’s intensive care unit, which is the key point he wants to highlight about this surge. He said the most common variant being detected is the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant, which drove the record surge the community saw in December and January.
“That speaks to the story here,” Paez said. “Yes, they get hospitalized, but they don’t get critically ill.”
Franklin County has seen 240 residents test positive for the virus in the 14-day period ranging from April 17 to April 30, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. This number represents a 207% increase in biweekly virus caseloads since the number of people infected with COVID-19 bottomed out at 88 in the two-week period from Feb. 27 to March 12.
The most important method to stop the spread of the virus, Paez said, is testing.
“If you ever, unfortunately, get COVID and have symptoms, get tested right away,” he said, noting there are approved treatments for people infected with the virus.
According to Paez, the average age of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is 65 years old, but the 20 to 29 age group is driving up the number of infections.
At this point, Paez said he would expect the BA.2.12.1 variant, which is a subvariant of BA.2, to move from New York City to this region.
“I expect the newer variant will likely take over at some point. It’s more transmissible,” Paez said. “If you look at the situation, omicron was not too long ago. … (The rising caseload) tells you that the population immunity either from vaccine, booster or natural infection is fading.”
While cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, deaths have been steadily dropping in Franklin County over the past several months. Six people have died from the virus since the start of April.
According to the state Department of Public Health’s data, last updated on May 5, Greenfield’s 87 cases in the previous two weeks are the most in the county, with Montague’s 39 cases and Deerfield and Sunderland’s 25 cases each following behind.
Paez said these small surges will be what he expects going forward as the virus spreads in waves similar to how the flu spreads each year.
“We’ll have these small waves and most of the cases are going to be a mild case of infection,” Paez said. He added individuals need to assess their family’s health and their own health when making decisions about virus precautions because those risk factors “really play a role in managing your risk when you’re out in the community.”
To view the CDC’s map of COVID-19 Community Levels, visit bit.ly/3yx2xJU.
Chris Larabee can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4081.