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Conscious of Covid-19 Variants, Cambridge Moves Forward with Vaccination and Phased Reopening

City officials urged the public to remain vigilant against the spread of virus variants during a Monday City Council meeting.
City officials urged the public to remain vigilant against the spread of virus variants during a Monday City Council meeting. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Ryan S. Kim, Crimson Staff Writer

Amid Cambridge’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign and phased reopening, city officials urged the public to remain vigilant against the spread of virus variants during a Monday City Council meeting.

On Feb. 18, Massachusetts progressed to Phase Two of its vaccination program, which extends coverage to individuals over the age of 65, residents and staff of low and affordable income senior housing, and individuals with two or more comorbidities. Teachers, service workers, and individuals with one underlying medical condition also fall under “Phase 2,” but are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

The general population will have access to the vaccine under “Phase 3,” which is set to begin in April, per the Massachusetts Department of Health.

As Cambridge residents receive the vaccination, cases of Covid-19 in the city are continuing to drop, according to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. The case positivity rate in the city decreased from roughly 1 percent on Feb. 8 to just over half a percent as of Feb. 18.

Despite the auspicious data, DePasquale urged residents to continue practicing health protocols to mitigate transmission.

“I want to strongly encourage the public to continue to adhere to our public health guidance and please don't let your guard down,” DePasquale said. “I also want to thank our local businesses for following sector specific safety protocols and placing and adhering to capacity restrictions.”

DePasquale noted during the meeting that Cambridge still lacks a public vaccination site due to a statewide shortage of doses. The state retracted support for individual municipal vaccine clinics, which includes Cambridge, in a notification to local boards of health on Feb. 17. Effective March 1, the state will stop providing dose one vaccines to local municipalities unless they can vaccinate 750 individuals per week, a number which Cambridge Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob said the city can accommodate.

“We are capable of administering this volume based on our experience at the CambridgeSide Mall and other on site vaccination efforts,” Jacob said at Monday’s meeting. “We are actively discussing with regional partners to ensure access to vaccines and the coverage of our respective communities and our higher risk populations.”

Since Jan. 4, Massachusetts vaccinators have administered 1,209,614 doses with 225,341 utilized in the last seven days.

Cambridge continues to test for Covid-19 variants among its population. The first case of the B1.351 variant — a variant that originated in South Africa and is more contagious — reported in the state was in Cambridge, the Cambridge Department of Public Health announced last week. Jacob also announced at Monday’s meeting the city had detected another case of the B1.351 variant.

As of Feb. 21, 34 cases of the B1.1.7 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, were reported in the state, in addition to the two cases of the B1.351 variant in Cambridge.

Jacob cautioned that testing numbers might underrepresent the number of variant cases in the city and said residents should continue to adhere to public health guidelines.

During the meeting, Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said he is concerned the city’s messaging about remaining vigilant against the virus conflicts with its phased reopening.

“We’re going to have very little influence on how and when our residents get vaccinated at this point,” Zondervan said. “Then we’re being told it’s okay to go out and dine indoors at restaurants even at higher capacity than before, so that’s a real contradiction to me.”

In response, DePasquale cited that Covid-19 cases are down in the city and Cambridge’s effective and individualized response to the public health crisis.

“No city, except for maybe Somerville in some cases, has had more delays or adjustments to the Governor’s recommendation than the City of Cambridge,” DePasquale said. “It’s something we’re very proud of, and it’s something we’ve worked on.”

“Based on where we are now, we feel we are in a good place,” he added.

—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at ryan.kim@thecrimson.com.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilMetro NewsMetroCoronavirus