Coronavirus infections match record from spring with cases rising in senior residences and schools
The number of Cambridge residents with Covid-19 jumped by 90 cases Friday, equaling the record set in the first coronavirus surge in spring 2020. And for the first time in months, infections were reported among residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
Separately, to deal with an expected increase in demand, the city said it would add a fifth day when residents can get free tests for Covid-19. The tests will be available only by appointment from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at a CIC Health testing site at 295 Third St., Kendall Square.
The new cases in long-term care occurred at Neville Place assisted living, where five residents have Covid, and at the Neville Center nursing home, with one employee infected, according to reports posted by the state Department of Public Health and Neville Center. Both facilities are near Fresh Pond on the grounds of the former city-owned Neville Manor nursing home and have ties to city government, though they are operated by private management companies.
Residents of nursing homes and assisted-living centers are especially vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their age and poor health; 60 percent of the 126 Cambridge residents who have died of the virus lived in long-term care. Yet after almost all residents of nursing homes and assisted living have been vaccinated – they were among the first to be eligible – none in Cambridge have become infected for months.
It remains difficult to get clear information about infections in long-term care facilities, and the latest figures illustrated the contradictory data available. The five resident cases at Neville Place were reported Thursday on the state health department website under a state law intended to provide more transparency. The long-term facilities themselves are supposed to disclose infections and deaths among residents and staff, and those figures are posted by the state.
The city, though, didn’t report any new cases in long-term care until Friday – and then it reported only one infection and didn’t identify the facility or say whether a resident or employee was infected.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the Neville Center nursing home disclosed on its website that one staff member had tested positive – it’s one of the few long-term care facilities that updates test results daily and makes that public. On Friday the state reported “one to four” cases among employees at the nursing home; the state doesn’t provide exact numbers if there are fewer than five cases.
Spokespeople for the Cambridge Public Health Department didn’t respond to questions about the Neville Place cases or why the city didn’t report them. The city’s daily email update on Covid-19 said the high case counts since Thanksgiving have followed “statewide trends” and added: “Epidemiology and public health nursing staff at CPHD are monitoring data to identify trends or clusters and continue to investigate cases.” It urged residents to call back if they get a call or text from the department and to get tested three to five days after exposure to the virus.
The number of coronavirus cases in schools has also been rising. Total cases went from around 80 at the end of November to 100 on Wednesday, then to 117 on Thursday, led by the high school and Peabody School in North Cambridge. A study from the state showed a number of clusters connected with youth sports, including sports in public schools.
This week saw the start of a policy saying all age-eligible students in Cambridge Public Schools must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or lose out on extracurricular activities – athletic events including club and intramural sports included. The policy was set Oct. 6 by the School Committee.
Health officials had predicted that cases would increase this winter because of holiday travel and get-togethers, and because cold weather would bring people indoors. They have not mentioned the new omicron variant, which is being studied to learn whether it’s more contagious or more virulent than the now-prevalent delta variant, and if it can evade available vaccines.
The city’s new testing option will be operated by CIC Health, an arm of the shared-workspace company. Only 300 appointments will be available at the first session Saturday. People must register with CIC.
City fire department and ProEMS employees provide walk-in tests on the other four days when testing is offered: from 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays at 50 Church St., Harvard Square; from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at St. John the Evangelist Church, 2254 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge; and from 4 to 8 p.m. Mondays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays at the CambridgeSide mall, 100 CambridgeSide Place, East Cambridge. No appointment or identification is required.
City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said previously that the city had hoped to offer testing on a fifth day at the Christian Life Center on Bishop Allen Drive in Central Square but couldn’t reach agreement with CIC Health to operate there.