Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Are Non-Resident Cases Masking the True COVID Count? We Asked the Cape's Public Health Nurse

Liz Lerner
Woodneck Beach in Falmouth.

Clusters of COVID-19 infections tied to parties on Cape Cod are raising concerns that the true number of local cases could be higher than people realize.


The concerns come because test results for non-residents staying here for the summer may not initially be reported as Massachusetts cases.


Deirdre Arvidson, the Barnstable County public health nurse, said laboratories notify health officials of a positive COVID-19 test in the community where the patient lives — based on the home address listed on the paperwork.


But if the system works as it should, the case will be transferred to Massachusetts, she said.


“The public health nurse would contact that person and find out they’re actually staying out here, working, and then have the case transferred to us,” she said. “So at that point, when it’s transferred to us, it does go in our state database.”


She said it’s possible those cases could get counted in two states, but she doesn’t know for sure.


“It’s not an exact science … I don’t know exactly,” she said.


Cape Cod has seen numerous cases of COVID-19 among restaurant workers, some of whom work on the Cape only for the summer and could be part of the group whose COVID-19 data get sent elsewhere, Arvidson said.


“They’re younger. They’re out there partying like it’s another summer on Cape Cod,” she said. “And they don’t seem to get the message that this is not like another summer on Cape Cod.”


But Arvidson said that overall, she doesn't think the challenge of identifying non-resident cases has substantially changed the case count on Cape Cod.

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.