Delta variant beginning to push MA COVID numbers up

Will July 4th Weekend fuel further rise?

HOPKINTON, Mass. — Alliteratively, they’re a great match. But parades and pandemics have a troubled history. In September 1918, a parade in Philadelphia helped fuel a surge in the influenza pandemic that year that killed thousands.

Mass illness is not a concern this July Fourth Weekend in much of New England, where a few parades took place, including in Hopkinton, where the town held its annual Independence Day Boat Parade on Lake Maspenock.

With vaccination rates high and infection numbers low, many took the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day like it was 2019.

“I’m actually feeling pretty good,” said Massachusetts resident Nate McKinley. “Maybe I’m a little too excited. To me, things are back to normal.”

Actually, though things are pretty good, they are far from back to normal. In fact, COVID is once again going in the wrong direction in Massachusetts, according to the state’s numbers. While infections remain extremely low, they are suddenly on the upswing - very slightly.

From June 23 to June 27, the state confirmed 291 COVID cases. In the following five days, tests confirmed 376 cases. That was an increase of about 29%. And there’s something troubling behind the numbers.

Dr. Richard Ellison, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester said, across New England, about a quarter of the new cases have been traced to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

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“So, Delta is here and there is an opportunity for it to increase,” Dr. Ellison said. “So New England’s the safest part of the country, but we’re going to have to watch it.”

Watch it potentially spread like wildfire as it has done in other countries around the world.

Already, cases of Delta have increased at least 10-fold in the U.S. since May, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the strain is destined to dominate U.S. infections.

Aside from spreading fast, Delta is also known to infect even those who have been vaccinated. Usually, in those immunized, it causes only mild illness, resembling something along the lines of a common cold, with symptoms such as sore throat and coughing. So, getting vaccinated is still important, Ellison said, as it can prevent hospitalization, life-long disability and even death.

Ellison also said that, while it’s thought vaccinated people might be less infectious when they come down with a breakthrough illness, it is still possible they could pass COVID to somebody else, at least for a few days.

“This environment right now, if someone starts getting a cold, they really need to get tested for COVID,” Ellison said.

The new risk posed by the Delta variant is one of the reasons Worcester County resident Chris Massey, though fully vaccinated, continues to wear a mask in public places.

“I think being extra safe and extra cautious until the science is more definitive, more long term, it makes sense for me,” Massey said.

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