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Illness, Loss, Hope: Cape Marks One Year of COVID-19 Pandemic

Jennette Barnes
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through clinic at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds on Feb. 3. It was the first Barnstable County-run clinic open to anyone age 75 and up.

One year ago Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts for COVID-19. Members of Cape Cod’s COVID task force are reflecting on how the year has changed life for so many.

As of this week, 418 people have died of COVID-19 in Barnstable County. Many more have fallen ill, lost loved ones, faced infection risk at work, lost their jobs, coped with at-home learning, or missed time with family they’ll never get back.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, the task force spokesman, recalled the night, a year ago — before most people were wearing masks — when he believes he caught the virus at a social event in Provincetown.

He estimates he came into contact with at least 120 people before he realized he was sick, because over the course of three days, he attended meetings and held office hours.

After a week of illness, he felt better physically. But as social distancing and the gravity of the pandemic took hold, the effect was more than just physical.

“Emotionally, I was wrecked,” he said. “I found myself in the worst depression I've had in years, paralyzed on endless conference calls, unable to get out of bed.”

He said everyone’s lives have changed — many in ways far worse.

A year later, the worry and struggles are still with us, even as vaccines bring hope.

Here’s more on the state of the pandemic on Cape Cod, one year in:

State data released Thursday show the Cape has the highest percentage of residents who have received at least one dose of vaccine — 31 percent.

Martha's Vineyard is close behind, at 29 percent receiving at least one dose; on Nantucket, it’s 22 percent.

Bristol County lags behind much of the state, with 18 percent of the population receiving at least one dose.

Local officials say Cape Cod is working on educator-only vaccination days that could mirror the four upcoming days scheduled by the state. Details have not been announced.

In the meantime, State Sen. Sue Moran said teachers may want to sign up on their own.

“Call, make your appointment to get your vaccine, and as more opportunities come up, the consortium will let everyone know, with as much detail as we have,” she said in reference to the regional vaccine consortium.

The state-approved group includes health care providers such as Cape Cod Healthcare, plus the Barnstable County government, local boards of health, and others.

Many teachers have been asking to be vaccinated ahead of the return to school. The state has said elementary students will return to in-person learning, full-time, by April 5, and middle schoolers by April 28. Fully remote learning — but not the hybrid model — will remain an option until the end of the school year.

President Joe Biden’s push to get states to vaccinate teachers, school staff, and childcare workers has sparked debate over whether those groups should be prioritized ahead of other essential workers.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has asked the state to delay the reopening of elementary schools until April 26 so more teachers can receive their vaccines.

In the business sector, Kristy Senatori, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, reports that business confidence is high.

“The strength of the seasonal outdoor economy — that's unique to the Cape, and it certainly makes us more economically resilient than other regions,” she said.

A business survey by the Commission and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce in January shows about 10 percent of businesses are closed due to COVID-19.

That’s far better than last spring, when about 63 percent of respondents said they had shut down their business at some point between March and June.

Of those that are closed right now, more than half said they intend to reopen.

Senatori said the federal Paycheck Protection Program has worked well on Cape Cod.

Created during the pandemic, PPP loans have helped businesses avoid laying off workers. The loans can be forgiven if the money is used as intended, with at least 60 percent going to payroll.

On the Cape, the overwhelming majority of businesses that applied for the program were approved, either fully or partially, Senatori said.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.