Shrewsbury grapples with COVID-19 case increase

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Shrewsbury held a vaccination clinic during National Night Out.
Shrewsbury held a vaccination clinic during National Night Out in August.
(Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury recorded just over 250 new positive COVID-19 cases between Dec. 17 and Dec. 27, town officials said in a release to the public earlier this week. 

According to Shrewsbury’s data released Dec. 27, Shrewsbury’s two week positivity rate is 6.02 percent with an average weekly case count of 55.5, for the week ending on Dec. 18. 

Town Administrator Kevin Mizikar warned during a Dec. 21 Board of Selectmen meeting that a surge in cases is ongoing. 

“You can see that we’re on a very serious and significant increase just like most of the rest of the country and definitely the rest of the Commonwealth,” Mizikar said. 

Shrewsbury still has a mask mandate in effect, requiring masks in town buildings and private businesses. Mizikar noted that in his comments, Dec. 21.

“We just ask everyone to wear their mask and cooperate with that [to] keep everyone safe,” Mizikar said.

Shrewsbury offices return to hybrid 

Shrewsbury’s town offices went back to a hybrid operations model on Dec. 20. 

This means staff are divided into A and B groups and rotate on a weekly basis.

Mizikar said there would be no impact to the public. However, he asked for residents to be patient with any delays at Town Hall because staffing is currently at 50 percent.

“Many of our offices have three or four employees, and [if] one individual positive in that office, [that] could mean we would have to shutter the whole office,” Mizikar said.

He anticipated that Town Hall will be operating in this hybrid mode at least through the end of January. 

Schools note post-Thanksgiving rise in COVID-19 cases

Outside of Town Hall, Shrewsbury school officials documented 57 positive cases among students and staff as of Dec. 17. 

When the School Committee met on Dec. 15, there were 28 cases specifically among students, representing roughly 0.5 percent of the student body. 

“So, [it’s] still a relatively low percentage of students who are testing positive for COVID, but more than we would like to see, of course, and a rising number compared to previous weeks and other parts of the school year,” Superintendent Joseph Sawyer said.

He noted at that time that there had been over 100 cases since Thanksgiving. 

Experts, he said, had cautioned that the combination of Thanksgiving, colder weather and other holiday gatherings could prompt additional cases. 

“That certainly is coming to pass,” Sawyer said.

He noted that only about 25 percent of students and staff are participating in the district’s routine COVID-19 safety testing program.

Sawyer encouraged students and staff to consider participating.

During the School Committee meeting, Sawyer discussed the newest Omicron variant. Today during a White House press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that while Omicron may be highly transmissible, there’s indication that it’s less severe than the Delta variant, though he cautioned against complacency.

Vaccination rates

As of last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, 75 percent of Shrewsbury residents were fully vaccinated while 86 percent had received at least one dose. 

“We saw positive news that these vaccination numbers continue to increase…” Mizikar said. “[It’s] very hard to avoid contacting COVID, but the vaccine is very effective in keeping symptoms very mild and definitely keeping you out of the hospital.”

Mizikar noted that vaccination rates are growing in the five to 11 years old age bracket. As of the selectmen’s meeting, 23 percent were fully vaccinated while 52 percent had received at least one dose. 

Public health officials and local leaders alike continue to encourage community members to get vaccinated. 

Locally, Shrewsbury has announced that there will be free walk-in vaccination clinics in Worcester over the next two weeks.

Two already took place yesterday and today. One more is scheduled tomorrow to take place at the YMCA Central Community Branch at 766 Main Street from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Next week, there will be clinics on Jan. 3 at the same YMCA location from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., on Jan. 5 at the Worcester Public Library from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Jan. 6 at the Worcester Boys and Girls Club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include information from Dr. Anthony Fauci that was shared during a White House press briefing this afternoon.

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