Health director: Expect COVID surge to continue through February; Omicron now dominant variant

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In his COVID-19 update to the Select Board on Tuesday night, Health Director Shaun McAuliffe indicated that the town continues to have its highest COVID case total since the start of the pandemic, and he expects this surge to continue through February.

“We’ve had a 14-day percent positivity rate of 14.14,” McAuliffe said. “It’s the highest positivity we’ve had in this pandemic. In the last 10 days, we’ve had 481 reported cases to the state Health Department. We estimate that there’s probably at least another 50 percent that either haven’t been reported or were reported to us or the school nurses via home tests. The state Health Department has a policy of not entering home tests into the state database. So we’re fairly confident that this count is well above the 481 that we have to date.”

Added McAuliffe: “By the end of January we estimate that over a quarter of the [town] population will have contracted COVID,” he said. “We believe that between the high rate of infection and the high rate of boosters we can really come out of this hopefully by the end of February, so we’ll be able to have the [road] races and get back to some of these events that we have so sorely missed.”

McAuliffe said that about 38 percent of the cases since Jan. 1 are school aged. He also noted that Omicron has become the dominant strain in town.

“Given the high mobility within the town, it’s not surprising to see that we have at least 13 different variants of COVID circulating within the community,” he said. “The three dominant variants are a Delta variant with an AY lineage that came in through an individual working at the school back in mid-November. That was the predominant strain going through the community up until mid-December. Then in mid-December we had the South African Omicron and the British Omicron, and those two have really taken over. Over the last two weeks, based on our variant report, most if not all of our cases have been Omicron.”

McAuliffe said residents have stepped up to get boosters, and parents continue to get their children vaccinated. He expects the 5-11 age group to hit 90 percent fully vaccinated soon.

The Hopkinton Health Department has added clinics for the 5-11 age group (the schedule is available at the town website), and McAuliffe said he anticipates receiving a $50,000 grant that will allow for more clinics along with the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased testing.

With the state moving to a personal responsibility model, the town’s Health Department is ending its contact tracing. McAuliffe said it would have taken nine days to do tracing for all of the current cases, based on a typical 30-minute phone call with each case.

“It’s impossible to keep up with the demand,” he said.

Added McAuliffe: “We will continue to have contact with residents, but our focus will be on those that are most vulnerable, those that are greatest risk, and those that we’ve identified in larger clusters. We’ll be focused on really trying to support and stand up our day-cares, and we’ll be assisting the school nurses with some of their contact tracing and their day-to-day operations so we can have a more stable school environment.”

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