Greenwich health official calls recent rise in cases of COVID-19 a 'concern'

GREENWICH — The recent rise in cases of COVID-19 in town is “something of concern,” town Director of Health Caroline Baisley said Monday.

“We started to see the spike in the latter part of June, which I began to be concerned about,” Baisley said. “It started around June 25, but I’d seen some incline over the last six weeks and we’ve seen a total of 43 cases (in town) over the last six weeks.”

According to the town of Greenwich, 18 new coronavirus cases were reported between July 9 and July 16.

Cases are also on the rise in the state and across the world after a dramatic decrease in early summer, she said.

Some of the cases in Greenwich involved family transmissions, due to close contact and large summer gatherings, Baisley said. But what stands out among the new cases is that they are not just among those who are not vaccinated, she said.

“The issue here is we’re seeing breakthrough cases, which is for someone who has been fully vaccinated,” Baisley said. “Then they have been in contact with the COVID virus, most likely a variant of the virus itself, and have come down with symptomatic COVID-19. We’re seeing this nationwide. This is not just occurring in Greenwich, Connecticut. It’s happening everywhere in the United States.”

But Dr. Gavin McLeod, head of infectious diseases at Greenwich Hospital, said the state has not seen a major increase in cases of COVID-19 and said the vaccines have shown to be effective against the variants.

“In other parts of the country, there have been increases, especially in the states where there’s poor vaccination rate,” McLeod said. He said the state’s tracking for the Delta variant shows that it is here, but it “hasn’t yet manifested in cases” for the Yale New Haven Health System, which he says is an encouraging sign that “the vaccine protects against this strain.”

On Monday, Greenwich Hospital reported it had no COVID-positive patients. The last COVID-19 patient at the hospital was there July 13. Since the start of July, it has not had more than two people admitted with the virus.

Pandemic of the unvaccinated

Baisley stressed that a person who is fully vaccinated is protected from the virus and its variants causing a severe illness or hospitalization, but it does not mean a person cannot get the virus. The federal Centers for Disease Control have issued the same warnings.

“You can still get the virus,” she said. “Right now we have the very strong Delta variant of the virus circulating. … It might not be a dominant strain, but of course it’s getting there. It’s circulating and the more it circulates, the more people may get exposed to it whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated.

“The unvaccinated people have a higher risk of any virus in experience. That we do know and the CDC has called it a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’,” she said. “They’re more at risk than anyone, but you don’t want to get the virus even if you are vaccinated. Even a mild case of COVID-19 is not good.”

Baisley said there has been no sequencing to link the Delta variant, which is easier to spread and potentially more damaging, to Greenwich. But she said she does not think it was the form of the virus that was seen last spring that people who are fully vaccinated are catching.

There are other variants, including one called Alpha that has been identified in Greenwich. she said. It’s “just a matter of time” before Delta is the dominant strain, as it is in other countries, Baisley said.

Masks and vaccines

On Monday Baisley urged people to wear masks in large groups or when around others who might not be vaccinated. And, if someone has not yet done so, to become fully vaccinated, she said.

As of Friday, 68.14 percent of Greenwich residents had received one shot of the vaccination and 62.08 percent were fully vaccinated, she said. Doses of the vaccine are available in local pharmacies for those in need, Baisley said.

There is evidence of a “summer lull” of people not getting vaccinated, but she predicted that would change closer to the fall.

People need to be fully vaccinated, she said, and just one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine “is not good enough for full protection.” Anyone who needs a second dose does not need to “start over,” Baisley said. Just make an appointment for the second dose, she said.

Baisley said she still wears a mask. She urged residents to follow the state’s recommendations, which are posted at www.greenwichct.gov under her department’s section. The website also includes a list of places to get the vaccine and advises all people to wear masks when in large groups.

”Of course you don’t have to wear one, but the recommendation for consideration is that if you’re in a very large crowd where social distancing isn’t even a prayer, you probably need to wear one,” Baisley said. “Is it a regulation? No. Is it a recommendation? Yes, and it’s a wise recommendation.”

McLeod pointed to the CDC regulations that masks are not needed outdoors but said people should wear masks when in a large crowd, such as at a concert or a sporting event.

“I don’t think it’s something where you have to be extra concerned at this point,” he said. “It does show the Delta variant is blocked by people who have received both doses of the vaccine. I think the people who should be concerned are the people who are not vaccinated.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com