Update: City Approaches 2,000 Cases as New Cases Finally Plateau

The numbers of new positive cases of COVID-19 being reported to the City daily has seemingly plateaued recently, with about 70 new cases per day being reported.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it was a hopeful estimation, but indicated the numbers of infection is still very high, and the rate of infection in Chelsea is so much higher than any other place – making any such news about a plateau to come with curbed enthusiasm.

“I think there’s maybe been a plateau,” he said. “We’re not seeing any large spikes. We’re getting numbers around the 70s every day. That’s not good news, but at least we’re not seeing any increase. We will feel a lot better when we see these numbers slowly declining.”

As of April 28, Chelsea had 1,915 positive cases confirmed, with 426 people having recovered and 98 having died from the virus. Last weekend, there appeared to be a major spike in the numbers. However, that was only because there was a backlog of tests that were finally registered from the Quest Diagnostics Lab. Many of these tests had been done some time ago, and only recently reported.

He said there is no one clamoring in Chelsea about re-opening the city as there is in other parts of the country. He said Chelsea would likely be the last community to open in the region.

“I think our infection rate is so much higher than anyone else, I can’t imagine anyone advocating to open things in Chelsea,” he said. “We’ll follow the guidance of the governor and regional partners and probably do something regionally. We’re certainly not going to be taking the lead and we would probably be the last community to come along.”

Right now, he said they are pushing more and more testing, and he is very encouraged by the anti-body testing study being conducted by MGH in Chelsea. That project started two weeks ago and tested 200 people. Last week they tested 400 people, and this week they also tested 400 people. The finger-prick blood test gives results in 10 minutes, but is only an indicator as to whether you have had the virus. Further swab testing has to be done if an anti-body test is positive, and that’s what Ambrosino said he hopes can be done.

“MGH is doing that and we really want to ramp it up,” he said. “They need to go carefully to follow the rules of the study and to understand their results. At some point, we want to really scale that up, but this is MGH’s project.”

Those who come back positive on that test can then be routed to the swab testing sites at MGH Chelsea or Beth Israel – where they are testing hundreds of patients per day.

One of the interesting pieces of that study is the fact that some come back showing they have anti-bodies, but they are not sick – meaning they have a negative swab test.

“Everyone thinks that is good news, but no one knows for sure,” he said. “For people who test positive for anti-bodies and then negative for COVID-19, no one has quite got the messaging down for them. They might have an immunity, but no one knows for sure.”

Testing is also happening in large numbers at the senior buildings throughout the city where the state Department of Public Health (DPH) and other partners are testing everyone. The results from those tests have been a bit slow, averaging around five days for a result. Ambrosino said they will continue with that program at other senior buildings, but want to get a better and quicker system for receiving results.

Getting Help Vs HIPA

A major barrier in helping people who are sick is health privacy rights.

When a person tests positive, the City Nurse is contacted and she and her staff contact that person and monitor them. However, they cannot share any of that information due to HIPA health privacy rights.

That has been a barrier to making sure people who are sick have enough food and services. If the person doesn’t give permission to the Nurse to give out their information, the City has no way of finding out who and where they are.

“There is a bit of a disconnect there,” he said.

There are many people who are sick, he said, but the City cannot identify them to help them. That hampers the isolation of patients and the City’s ability to deliver food and supplies to people in quarantine.

“The Nurse cannot divulge that information to us unless the patient gives express consent,” he said. “That’s why we really encourage people to call our helpline if they need help.”

Food Effort Still Ramping Up

Ambrosino said the City is still scaling up its efforts to help feed the city with partners like the National Guard, Chelsea Collaborative and Salvation Army – among others. Still, long lines of residents gather almost daily to try to get boxes of food for the week.

“It’s going as good as it can probably go,” said Ambrosino. “It’s a Herculean effort to feed 18,000 people in the City each week. We have 45,000 pounds of food delivered every day to the PORT Park. We have to sort it and box it up. We’re probably getting close to 1,000 boxes day, but the goal is 1,300 boxes at some point next week.”

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