Figuring Out How To Address COVID-19 In Western Massachusetts
On a recent Thursday, fewer than a dozen people gathered in a brightly lit room on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. The group included medical professionals and people who had previously avoided COVID-19 vaccinations, but wanted them that day. Those clinics continue in cities and towns throughout western Massachusetts every week.
“A lot of people are coming in due to work mandating [the vaccine] or school mandating [the vaccine], and some people just see us with the signs outside and walk in,” nurse Shellyann Thompson said.
Thompson said the two-hour weekly clinic at Springfield Technical Community College usually attracts anywhere between a half-dozen and a few dozen interested people.
“I want to rejoin my chorus and you need to be vaccinated to do it. So, I thought, OK, I'm scared. And, you know, every place now is kind of requiring it, so I need to just do it,” explained Wendy Gannett of Easthampton.
Hampden and Hampshire counties have higher COVID infection rates and lower rates of vaccination than most other counties in Massachusetts, according to state public health figures. That has led to new restrictions in many communities recently. The mask mandates differ from one community to the next, which can cause some confusion.
“It's challenging for parents to understand, why does their child have to wear a mask inside the school, but then could potentially be playing in a basketball league without a mask in a different state? Or there's a recommendation to wear a mask in a restaurant, and yet their child can be sitting in other places where they cannot have a mask on,” said Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts.
At this stage in the pandemic, Collins blames inconsistent rules among government agencies for political disagreements and confusion among the public regarding best practices for maintaining safety.
“It just leads to, you know, inconsistent prevention practices and it makes people more vulnerable, obviously, as we've seen to the delta variant,” she said. “And I think people all over are obviously trying to do the best for their families.”
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