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New COVID-19 Rules Imposed on Cape Cod Nursing Homes Amid Outbreak

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Massachusetts Department of Public Health
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The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 shows Provincetown and Chilmark with higher rates. A nursing home in West Yarmouth also recently identified 24 cases among residents and nine among staff.

A spike in COVID-19 cases on Cape Cod has prompted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to issue new protocols for long-term care facilities in Barnstable County.

The department said in a July 19 memorandum to Cape facilities that it was implementing new rules in response to a “marked increase” in cases in the region.

The memo called for nursing homes and other facilities to test employees who are not fully vaccinated before every shift. That’s more strict than the guidelines in place statewide since May, which call for weekly testing.

The state directed Cape Cod facilities to test any employee who is returning from vacation or experiencing symptoms of illness, regardless of vaccination status. It also asked each facility to take an inventory of personal protective equipment and contact the Department of Public Health if they don’t have at least two weeks’ supply.

Facilities must require masks for visitors who come indoors.

“The long-term care facility should issue the visitor a new mask and have them don it upon arrival,” the department said in the memo.

Violations could result in a freeze on admission of new residents and state intervention.

The rules expire at the end of July unless the state extends them.

Meanwhile, Cape Cod public health officials are waiting for gene sequencing to show how big a factor the Delta variant has been in the local increase in COVID-19.

Variant or not, officials said precautions are warranted.

Vaira Harik has been tracking COVID-19 data for Barnstable County, where she is deputy director of the Department of Human Services.

Her 84-year-old mother lives with her. Harik said she’s started wearing a mask in public again to protect her mother, even though they’re both fully vaccinated.

“I'm speaking to you as a public health person, but also as a daughter,” she said. “I'm very crestfallen to see where we have returned to, for at least this period of time.”

Chilmark and Provincetown have the state’s highest rate of new cases by population over the last two weeks.

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that a West Yarmouth nursing home, Maplewood at Mayflower Place, has identified 24 cases among residents and nine among staff since July 10. The Cape Cod Times broke the news last Friday of a Maplewood outbreak.

The influx of summer visitors, combined with the likely presence of the more contagious Delta variant, puts people at risk, Harik said.

“A combination of the July 4th weekend, the beginning of the season, more people around, and the Delta variant, I think, is increasing our numbers across the Cape,” she said. “It's not just Provincetown. It's not just nursing homes. … The majority of towns in Barnstable County are seeing more cases.”

She urged those who have not gotten a vaccine to do so, and everyone to take what she called common-sense precautions.

That includes masking children in indoor spaces and when they can’t distance outdoors.

“The prudent parent will mask their children,” she said.

She said the same goes for anyone who is unvaccinated.

Results of gene sequencing to identify the strains on Cape Cod could be released later this week or early next week, according to local officials.