New record for weekly Covid cases as holidays bring extra surge

Dec 27, 2020

For the first time, Dartmouth’s Board of Health has reported more than 200 new weekly cases of the viral illness, as residents continue to gather for the holiday season despite health officials’ warnings to stay home.

A record-breaking 211 cases — nearly three times the spring peak of 78 — were reported in the week ending Dec. 25, up from 157 the week before and 19% higher than the previous record of 177 weekly cases.

No residents have died from the virus in the past seven days, although there have been 55 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

State data from Dec. 24 shows the town’s 14-day percent positivity climb to 8.83% — up from 7.9% last week — and the average daily incidence rate dipped slightly from 63.7 to 62.9 per 100,000 people, due in part to a drop in testing, according to Public Health Director Chris Michaud.

Michaud warned officials earlier this month that the town will likely see widespread community transmission of the virus continuing through January. 

“The darkest part of winter is ahead,” he said over the phone just before Christmas. “People will still want to go over people’s houses at the holidays. Now is not the time — It’s the most dangerous time right now to be doing this.”

“There’s a lot of talk about vaccines — that’s still a ways out. We only have a limited capacity in our hospitals,” he added. “Now more so than ever, we need to be listening to these recommendations from our leaders and following them very strictly.”

Data also shows 89 active cases among students and staff at Dartmouth’s public schools as of Dec. 21, with the illness affecting more than 2.4% of students in the system.

Across all six schools, 76 students and 13 employees are currently positive for the virus, with 61 cases already resolved — meaning the person has completed the required 10-day isolation and can safely return to in-person learning.

Dartmouth High School is the most affected school, with 30 students (or 3.2% of the student body) and four staff members actively infected and isolating.

Due to staffing issues with the high number of close contacts quarantining, the schools will start up remotely for at least the first week of January.

Dartmouth — along with the rest of the commonwealth — had to take a step back in the state’s four phased reopening plan earlier this month after remaining in the “high risk” category for three straight weeks.

Michaud has stressed that residents should take all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of transmission, reminding them that just 15 minutes of contact accumulated over 24 hours can transmit the virus.

Meanwhile UMass Dartmouth students are on winter break, with the second semester set to start on January 19. The university reported nine new positive Covid cases in just the two days before break began, Dec. 14 and 15.

As of Dec. 26, Massachusetts has 78,086 estimated active Covid-19 cases, with 11,752 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths reported. There have been 32,058 cases in Bristol County since the start of the pandemic.