FALL RIVER — After last week’s record-breaking barrage of new COVID cases, Fall River’s weekly total dipped slightly — but it's still too early to tell if this small reduction in COVID cases means the winter wave has hit its peak.
According to figures from the state Department of Public Health, Fall River recorded 1,880 new cases of the highly infectious coronavirus in the past week, for an average of 268 new cases per day.
Since the start of the pandemic, the city has officially recorded 26,786 positive cases in total. Statistically, that accounts for three out of every 10 people in the city, but it’s unknown how many of those cases are repeat infections.
Fall River has been recording an average of over 100 new cases a day for the past six weeks. In January alone, more than 5,400 new cases of COVID have been reported, making this by far the worst month of the pandemic.
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The second-worst month in terms of new cases is January 2021, which saw more than 3,200 cases reported. At that time, COVID vaccinations were not yet widely available, as they are now — but the COVID virus had also not yet mutated into stronger, more resistant and more transmissible variants including delta and omicron.
Scientific experts say omicron is much more easily transmitted than previous variants, and can more easily infect people who have been vaccinated — although people who have been vaccinated tend to have far milder cases of COVID than the unvaccinated. The omicron variant took root in the population in early December and began infecting massive numbers of people with astonishing speed, compounding an already bad winter wave. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the omicron variant accounts for over 99% of all cases of COVID nationwide, including the Northeast US.
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Though cases saw a small drop, Fall River’s COVID test positivity rate jumped higher. Over the past two weeks, 27.54% of COVID tests came back positive, the highest rate yet recorded, and a likely sign that the omicron variant is still running rampant; two months ago, just before the omicron variant began being detected, the city's test positivity rate was just over 6%.
COVID infections still high across Greater Fall River towns
Towns across Greater Fall River followed the same pattern — still reporting astronomical rates of new infections, but slightly below last week’s rates.
Freetown: 128 new cases this week, 2,079 total, 23.85% positivity rate
Somerset: 287 new cases this week, 4,170 total, 23.89% positivity rate
Swansea: 229 new cases this week, 3,740 total, 22.99% positivity rate
Westport: 238 new cases this week, 3,366 total, 27.72% positivity rate
Across Fall River, 113 people were being hospitalized due to COVID, 16 of them in intensive care — just higher than last week at this time, which saw 109 COVID patients.
The statistics regarding positive cases and tests only reflect positive cases officially reported to health care centers and officials; they do not count positive results of at-home rapid tests. It also doesn’t take into account people who may be positive but are asymptomatic and don’t get tested at all.
COVID affects people differently. Most people who are diagnosed with COVID will recover from symptoms that include cough, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, nausea, high fever and body aches; how long the symptoms last varies from person to person. Some cases are mild. In others, the symptoms can be severe, sometimes requiring hospitalization, and those symptoms can linger for months. COVID can be fatal, and is most threatening to people such as the elderly and those who are medically vulnerable, but not exclusively.
COVID still spreading in schools
Across Greater Fall River schools, 668 students and 140 staff members were newly infected with COVID.
Fall River public schools: 107 students, 70 staff
Diman: 104 students, 10 staff
Atlantis Charter School: 59 students, 6 staff
Argosy Collegiate Charter School: 31 students, 6 staff
Somerset public schools: 57 students, 12 staff
Somerset-Berkley: 35 students, 3 staff
Swansea public schools: 96 students, 12 staff
Westport public schools: 55 students, 10 staff
Freetown-Lakeville schools: 124 students, 11 staff
Since the start of the school year, 878 students in Fall River public schools have been infected with COVID — about one out of every 12 students.
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Towns hit three-quarters vaccinated mark
The surrounding towns in Greater Fall River have all reached 75% of their population with at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Fall River is lagging behind with about two-thirds of the city population at least partially vaccinated.
Vaccine rates among kids ages 5 to 11 continue to languish at low levels, however. Children in that age group are eligible to get the Pfizer two-dose vaccine only. Since being released in early November, 19% of Fall River’s children ages 5 to 11 have at least one dose of it, and only 10% have gotten both doses — 717 children total.
Statewide, 48% of kids in that age group have been partially vaccinated, and 28% of kids have gotten both doses. Nationally, 8.2 million children have gotten the vaccine.
COVID vaccines are free, safe and effective at stopping most people from becoming infected with or developing a serious case of COVID. The website FRvax.com lists public vaccine clinics in the area. Vaccine appointments are also listed at vaxfinder.mass.gov.
Dan Medeiros can be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Fall River sees 5400 COVID cases in Jan. 2022, pandemic's worst month