For Immediate Release: 3/11/2022 3:51 pm
WORCESTER – The city’s seven-day average of new positive COVID-19 cases fell to 12.6, which is now at its lowest point since July. The number of COVID-19-positive inpatients at Worcester hospitals also dropped again to 27, with five in intensive care units. The city’s test positivity rate sank to 1.2 percent, and COVID-19 levels in wastewater lowered following a brief increase last week.
After also rising last week, the seven-day averages of new positive cases in Shrewsbury and Grafton declined to 4.6 and 1.9, respectively.
As a result of Worcester’s downward trending case rate and the county’s Low Community Level classification by the CDC, effective May 15, the city plans to rescind its Vaccination Verification Policy and no longer require employees not up-to-date on their vaccines to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. In collaboration with the Division of Public Health and Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh, the city will continue to monitor positivity rates, risk of new variants, and public health standards to maintain a safe workplace for its employees, and it may revisit the rescission before May 15 if circumstances change.
A total of 521 Worcester residents have now passed away due to COVID-19. Because of updated criteria being implemented Monday, March 14 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health regarding cause of death, there is a possibility this total could fluctuate. However, city officials emphasized that it should not diminish the pandemic’s toll, and any life lost deserves to be remembered.
To date, 62 percent of city residents are fully vaccinated and 73 percent have received at least one dose. Of those fully vaccinated, 47 percent have now received a booster dose, which is three percentage points ahead of the state average.
In an effort to increase vaccination rates among Worcester youth, the city announced a new series of four onsite clinics at local public elementary schools this month. All available vaccines and boosters will be provided, so students as well as their families and caregivers are encouraged to receive their next dose.
Anyone ages 5-17 who gets a vaccine or booster during one of these clinics will also be entered to win one of three $3,000 college scholarships. No appointment is necessary, and dates and times are listed below:
A full clinic schedule can be found at worcesterma.gov/coronavirus/vaccination. Residents should note that the vaccine clinic offered on Fridays at the Worcester Senior Center will close after March 25. As announced last week, the UMass Memorial Health Mercantile Center testing clinic will continue through at least May 15, and specific hours for April will be forthcoming.
Worcester Public Schools will also receive a total of 37,000 test kits from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over the next several weeks. Further details will follow, but each student is expected to receive one kit to bring home.
On Monday, March 7, the Worcester Board of Health voted to rescind its mask requirement for all K-12 private, public, charter, and parochial schools. On March 8, Worcester Public Schools published its updated policy for face coverings, which strongly recommends masks for unvaccinated or otherwise immunocompromised individuals in school buildings,
on school buses and vans, and on school grounds. Masks are still required in all school health offices, and students and staff returning from five-day quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test must follow strict mask use indoors and actively monitor for symptoms through day 10 of exposure.
Face coverings also remain mandatory at Worcester hospitals and Worcester Regional Airport, as well as on WRTA buses, the Commuter Rail, airplanes, and all means of public transportation and ride shares. Any other business, institution, or organization may also enact its own mask requirement.
To increase the availability of masks, Worcester has been provided funding by the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance to purchase a large quantity of N95 masks. A priority will be placed on acquiring masks for local schools and education programs, congregate care facilities, health workers, early intervention programs, homeless shelters, and organizations offering services to other underserved and at-risk populations. The city is in the process of reaching out to community partners to facilitate requests and orders, and those organizations will manage the distribution of masks.
City officials welcome the opportunity to provide free masks to vulnerable populations and reiterated that anyone who wishes to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so. Furthermore, the state’s mask advisory continues to recommend face coverings indoors for fully vaccinated individuals with a weakened immune system or at increased risk for severe disease due to age or an underlying medical condition; fully vaccinated individuals if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated; and any individual not fully vaccinated.