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Provincetown COVID-19 Outbreak Hits 765; More Than Two-Thirds of Mass. Cases are Vaccinated

Jennette Barnes
Signs outside Marine Specialties in Provincetown, shown here on July 22, required masks inside the store prior to the town instituting an indoor mask mandate the following Sunday.

The cluster of COVID-19 infections linked to Provincetown has grown to 765 cases, town and Barnstable County officials announced Tuesday.

Of those, 469 are Massachusetts residents, and nearly 200 live in Provincetown.

The outbreak, which began around the Independence Day holiday, has drawn special concern about the virulence of the Delta variant because 69 percent of the Massachusetts cases have occurred in people who were fully vaccinated.

As of Friday, genetic sequencing of samples from the cluster detected the Delta variant in 100 percent of samples.

Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services, presented the data Sunday in an emergency joint meeting of the Provincetown Select Board and Board of Health.

“The Delta variant is highly transmissible,” she said, “but if you are vaccinated, it significantly reduces how sick you become.”

The Select Board and Board of Health voted Sunday to impose an indoor mask mandate for public spaces; other communities, including Sandwich and Boston, have urged anyone who recently visited Provincetown to get tested.

Three people whose cases are tied to the cluster have required hospital care.

State Senator Julian Cyr said in an interview that he’s glad to see the vaccines are preventing most serious symptoms.

“Had we not had the vaccines, the cluster that we had in Provincetown — the cases across the region — would have been really catastrophic,” he said.

But the vaccines don’t necessarily keep people from getting sick, he said, “and so that's what we're navigating during our busiest summer season.”

Community spread is happening in Provincetown, and opportunities for exposure were not focused on a single activity or venue, officials said. But they acknowledged that the outbreak is tied to the influx of visitors coming to Provincetown this summer and to crowded venues where people gather.

“What it does show is that even just a few unvaccinated individuals, particularly in high-density environments, can definitely spread this virus and can make people sick,” Cyr said.

Provincetown has a high vaccination rate of 116 percent in state data, because more people receiving the vaccine have listed Provincetown as their residence than in the most recent Census count.

The number of cases associated with the outbreak has risen rapidly, from zero on July 1 to 256 last Tuesday, about 550 by the end of last week, and 765 this Tuesday.