The Town of Amherst, alongside our surrounding communities, has managed the pandemic remarkably well since the first case here on March 22, 2020. With the continuous introduction of new information, we have had to become comfortable with assessing and changing our mitigation strategies. Some tools were discovered to be ineffective, such as cleaning grocery bags, and some have stayed steady and effective especially when layered – social distancing, testing, mask-wearing. We now can add ventilation, good quality masks worn properly, and antiviral medication to our methods. But vaccination remains our most valuable tool and Amherst’s vaccine rate is calculated to be 88% for fully vaccinated, this high number is in part thanks to UMass Amherst student’s vaccine rate of 97.8% and Amherst College at 99%.
Now, as we see the Hampshire County and State data dramatically subsiding, our numbers have taken an upward bump. With the large concentration of college students, and the comprehensive testing requirements at the colleges and University, Amherst is unique in the number of Town residents who are being tested on a regular basis. As expected, this extensive testing reveals mild or asymptomatic cases that otherwise might not be reported.
Amherst’s recent increase, and previous numbers since early February, has consistently shown that approximately 84% of the cases fall into the 17 to 22-year-old age group, and 2 – 5% are in the 23 to 27-year-old age group. Contact tracers report that transmission has reflected the social activities of these age groups, such as clubs, sports, and small gatherings. In general, these types of groupings suggest less community spread and more behavior related spread. The numbers in other age groups have been less than 1.2% and has not wavered.
We have aligned ourselves with Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), the State-level public health experts who draw knowledge from, and base policy on, scientific consensus. We, as a Town, balance their guidance with our unique community situation. In two weeks, on March 10th, the Amherst Board of Health will meet to interpret COVID statistics and decision points. Updated data will be reviewed at that meeting and public health strategies will be decided.
The Town updates their public COVID-19 dashboard daily during the week, which can be found at www.amherstcovid19.org
Paul Bockelman, Amherst Town Manager
Jennifer Brown, Amherst Public Health Director