Worcester officials advise residents to avoid in-person shopping, dining as new COVID cases surge to new highs

New coronavirus cases in Worcester over the last eight days eclipsed 1,000, officials said, surpassing the high-water mark from the spring which was 600.

Over an eight-day period from Thanksgiving through Thursday, Worcester saw 1,012 new COVID-19 cases, “a mind-boggling” number Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said.

On Wednesday alone, Augustus said, the city saw 278 cases, the most since April 22. Overall the city has now seen 10,127 cases since the start of the pandemic. The city reported nine more deaths since last week.

The positivity rate in the city is at 22%, Worcester Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh said.

Augustus said the positive tests are “widespread” across the city coming from households to childcare to hospitals.

“The testing number, more than 1,000 cases in the last eight days, that’s just a staggering number,” Augustus said. “And that does not really reflect the surge that we’re expecting that came from Thanksgiving travel.”

With numbers rising to new highs, Augustus still declined to implement stricter guidelines for restaurants and retail.

While a mandate wasn’t implemented, Hirsh and Augustus advised residents to avoid indoor dining and work from home when possible. The two officials recommended shopping online and ordering takeout to limit contact.

“Every trip that you take outside of your bubble at home is a risk,” Hirsh said.

Augustus believes if a mandate came, it should be implemented at the state level.

”We’re certainly talking amongst ourselves about things we can do,” Augustus said. “I do think it’s challenging for one city to shut down restaurants or shut down stores where people can go the next town over. You don’t get the benefit of that. People are just going to travel to other places and then you hurt your businesses.”

Augustus and Hirsh each shared concerns about the number of health care workers infected by the virus during the last week.

Augustus said as the city braces for a second surge of the virus, the shortages won’t come from PPE but in the form of health care staff.

Health care workers at the city’s two hospitals, Saint Vincent Hospital and UMass Memorial Health Care, reported a combined 99 new cases – an average of more than 12 per day.

“If you’re not willing [to follow the safety protocols] for yourself, if you’re not willing to do it for your family members, let me ask folks to try to do it for our health care workers,” Augustus said. “If you look at the hospitals, if you look at the nursing facilities, look at the positive numbers for health workers, they’re exhausted.”

As high as the numbers are now, the city anticipates they will continue to increase due to Thanksgiving travel.

Hirsh said the surge from Thanksgiving is expected around the middle of December with another surge after Christmas.

On Sunday, the DCU Center is expected to open as a field hospital. Gov. Charlie Baker toured the facility in Worcester on Thursday. CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care Dr. Eric Dickson said there’s already a list of patients that would be admitted into the arena if it was open now.

Hirsh said there’s concern over staffing at the field hospital. Right now, there’s enough staff to maintain 50 of the 220 beds. Information on joining UMass Memorial’s staff is available here.

In April, when the facility opened, Hirsh said people from all over the country flocked to Worcester to help. That isn’t possible now as the virus continues to ravage the entire country.

“At that time the Northeast was established as the epicenter of the problem along with Florida,” Hirsh said. “The midwest, southwest, northwest, California, they weren’t that bad off. It was easier to get reserves in here to help us. That’s gone.”

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