Cases of coronavirus, flu and other respiratory illnesses are rising, according to the town’s health department.
Public Health Nurse Anne Marie Fleming said there were 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in December, with 34 cases being reported during the week of Dec. 24. Fleming confirmed that cases of flu and RSV were increasing but that the exact number are not known, because of the lack of testing for both illnesses. Fleming said the rise in cases was expected at this time of year when students and employees return to school and work after the holidays.
“There is a lot of flu and our cases have gone up,” Fleming said. “The week after Christmas had an exponential increase of cases of respiratory illnesses.”
The rise in respiratory illnesses has led to an increased number of admitted patients at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro. The hospital reported on Jan. 5 that of the 143 patients admitted, 21 were COVID-19 positive, while 10 were positive for influenza. Additionally, the hospital said there had been a 15% increase in patients admitted to the emergency department.
Sturdy Health Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Justine Zilliken noted the rise in cases led to staff expanding into its overflow space to provide more beds and employees. Patients are required to put on a face mask while in the building to mitigate the spread of the viruses.
“Anytime you have the confluence of flu, COVID and RSV, it’s incredibly taxing on the emergency department and your intensive care unit,” Zilliken said. “Wait times become long but we are doing our absolute level best. We are asking everyone for their support.”
Both Fleming and Zilliken attributed this increase in cases to a decrease in vaccinations. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations were provided by the state and free of charge.
Fleming said vaccination clinics were also available at Town Hall during 2021, allowing residents easy access to receive a vaccine. With the state no longer providing vaccines, residents now have to pay for it, with some costing more than $100.
“The costs play an impact for people without insurance,” Fleming said. “They are weighing the risk factors and the toll it could take on their pocketbook. People want to remain vigilant and it depends on how vulnerable they are to disease.”
Fleming said she does not anticipate the town taking the same measures used in 2020 to mitigate the spread. She said schools will still be open and masking is optional, but children who are experiencing symptoms should be tested by their parents and stay home.
“Take precautions,” Fleming said. “If you’re not getting vaccinated, then be careful. Wear a mask if you are symptomatic.”