Provincetown’s Covid Outbreak Shows ‘It’s Nowhere Near Over’
PROVINCETOWN, Massachusetts – By July 4, Provincetown’s tourist season had reached a prepandemic pace. Restaurants were packed and queues were forming outside the dance clubs. There were conga lines, drag brunches, and an omnipresent, joyful sense of relief.
“We really thought we beat Covid,” said Alex Morse, who arrived this spring as chief executive. “We had internalized these messages, that life will return to normal. We beat that. We are the most vaccinated community in the state.
Mr Morse didn’t think much of it, five days after the vacation, when the city’s health board registered two new cases of the coronavirus. A week later, however, the cluster of cases associated with rallies in Provincetown increased from 50 to 100 cases per day. Next to the numbers, there was a troubling fact: Most people who tested positive were vaccinated.
Provincetown, a quirky seaside community on the tip of Cape Cod, provided a sobering case study for the country, abruptly leading Americans to winter and spring caution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday cited the cluster as key to its decision to release new indoor mask guidelines, saying viral loads among those vaccinated there were found to be as high as those not. vaccinated.
A health-conscious, left-wing Northeastern community known as the vacation mecca for gay men, Provincetown had one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with over 95% among permanent residents, Mr. Morse believes.
On the weekend of July 4, there were also a lot of people. About 60,000 people had stuck in a narrow strip of land, where many gathered, without masks, on sweaty dance floors and at house parties.
Of the 965 cases scientists traced at gatherings in Provincetown, including 238 residents, scientists have drawn important conclusions about the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has contributed to an increase in hospitalizations across the country, mostly among the unvaccinated .
The good news is that those infected in Provincetown were, for the most part, not seriously ill; no deaths were reported and only seven people were hospitalized. The bad news is that the variant is extraordinarily contagious – as contagious as chickenpox, the CDC said – and people with so-called breakthrough infections can pass the virus on to others.
In Provincetown, this news left a whiplash feeling behind.
“We’re going back in time to April or May 2021,” said Susan Peskin, a longtime summer vacationer who moved there full-time four years ago. “Now it’s clear, as clear as day, that you can be vaccinated and still get Covid. At the end of the day, we really have to watch ourselves and not think it’s over. It is far from over. “
“Like putting a toe in the water”
Ms. Peskin, a financial analyst, remembers how strange it was to let our guard down this spring. One day she walked into a restaurant for a happy hour and saw that the plexiglass barrier was gone, so she could look the bartender straight in the face.
At the height of the pandemic, Provincetown had followed strict protocols. She had never seen the lower half of her nail technician’s face. It was shocking the first time she walked into a business without a mask.
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“It was like putting a toe in water,” she said. “Slowly but surely I was rolling out everything I had put in place. It was a denouement of fear.
Soon visitors were arriving in Provincetown in waves, which Ms Peskin watched with a pang of heart. Next to Herring Cove Beach, where on a normal summer day 100 or 200 bikes could be lined up on the fence, it had five times as many.
So many gay men flocked to Circuit Party week, the first week of July, that people on social media started sharing photos of the queues outside clubs, meandering for blocks.
This period marked “the best weeks our businesses have had in a very long time,” said Morse, the city’s general manager. It was, he said, a feeling of release that they all needed.
“There was a collective feeling that everyone had been through so much, individually and collectively, over the past 18 months,” he said.
Steve Katsurinis, chairman of the city health council, said the sites were in line with CDC guidelines.
“We were told, ‘Now that you are vaccinated and everyone is vaccinated, you can go out and live the pre-Covid lifestyle,” “he said. “People did it, they lived with enthusiasm. We were led to believe, “If you get the vaccine you can go to a dance club, you can go to a house party and meet someone and kiss. This is what we thought the situation was.
“Delta is a different thing”
By the end of the week, Mr Katsurinis was receiving reports of positive coronavirus cases – all gay men, on average 30 to 35 years old, many of whom had seen a doctor for other reasons, such as flu symptoms or sexually transmitted infections. , not suspecting the coronavirus. What intrigued him, he said, was that so many infected people were vaccinated.
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“Frankly, I couldn’t believe that people who were vaccinated were getting it and spreading it, like the contact tracing people were saying,” he said. “I had this moment of saying, ‘I don’t think the data is accurate. “”
Days passed, he said, before it was clear that the virus circulating was the Delta variant, “and I went, oh, okay. Delta is something else.
“I don’t think we could have predicted what Delta would do here,” he said.
Infectious disease specialists praised the meticulous tracing of community contacts, carried out largely by four Barnstable County nurses, for helping them understand the scale of the outbreak.
As city leaders debated which health measures to reintroduce, Mr Morse said he feared overreacting or making decisions “on the basis of the loudest and most frantic voices.”
But successive waves of testing have shown a rising positivity rate, peaking at 15% on July 15. The city issued an indoor mask notice four days later, Mr. Morse said, and made it mandatory on July 25.
“We are entering a new era of having to live with the virus,” he said. “In the long term, it won’t be possible to hide one weekend and let the next go by. “
“We will take care of our own”
At the end of the summer, Provincetown is a different Provincetown – always crowded, but cautious, on the lookout for poor results. The city’s positivity rate fell to 4.6% on Thursday; his mask mandate will automatically become an advisory, and then be lifted, if he remains weak.
Rick Murray, general manager of Crown and Anchor, a beachfront hostel that houses bars and nightclubs, says it’s part of the community’s DNA to be “very, very responsible” in the event of a health crisis .
“When the AIDS epidemic arrived, we took care of our own and we will take care of our own now,” said Murray, who has been HIV positive for 37 years. He said he expected protection against the virus to be a challenge “for another two or three years, easily”.
“It’s not going to go away,” he said.
It was simple enough for Liz Carney, 50, who owns the Four Eleven Gallery on Commercial Street, to revert to strict coronavirus protocols. There was muscle memory. For a preview scheduled for Friday, she returned to this old and sober style: mandatory masks, no drinks served and only three people allowed in the gallery at a time.
Thinking back to the exuberant crowds in June, she said it was “a little naive” to think it was safe to congregate inside – but also, she misses them.
“There was just a joy and an exhilaration,” she said. “It was very exciting. I would have liked to take a walk on the dance floor while I had the chance.
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