Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are going through what a local public health official described as "impressive case spikes," but local business leaders said the region is primed for a record-breaking summer tourism season on the other side of this third major wave of COVID-19.
Vaira Harik of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services said Thursday morning that Cape Cod and the Islands are "suffering disproportionately higher case rates" of COVID-19 compared to the rest of the state. Barnstable County has seen about 97 new cases per day while Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are each confirming about nine new cases each day, she said.
Sen. Julian Cyr said officials suspect variants of COVID-19 are helping to drive the concerning outbreak. He said Cape officials are working closely with the Department of Public Health to ensure testing access and resources across the region.
"The spike in cases, if it continues, will be a third wave of COVID-19 on Cape Cod, regrettably, in this pandemic," he said during a Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force call Thursday.
The senator said the recent spike shows that COVID-19 safety precautions "are absolutely essential and that although the days are getting nicer and we see a higher percentage of individuals and people in our community who are vaccinated, we need to continue vigilance here."
Cyr recommended that people continue to wear a mask or two masks when indoors, avoid large gatherings, get tested for COVID-19, remember to keep their distance from other people and wash their hands regularly.
In the spirit of trying to "walk and chew gum," Cyr said he, Sen. Su Moran of Falmouth and other Cape Cod officials are working to put the pieces in place for the popular vacation destination to have a safe and successful summer season.
Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said a "hiring boom" is underway on the Cape as resorts, restaurants, golf courses and other businesses staff up for what is expected to be a busy summer.
"In the face of a 33 percent on average unemployment rate in the hospitality industry across the country, we are adding jobs and we are seeking people to come and work for us," she said. Northcross added, "pretty much everyone has a 'help wanted' sign out."
Cyr said the multipronged efforts to slow the spread of new infections, vaccinate more residents to protect them against infection and help prepare businesses for the summer tourism season are an attempt to "save lives and also save livelihoods." He said he expects the current case spikes to be under control by summer and that the region proved last summer that it can successfully adopt mitigation efforts to keep residents and visitors safe.
"We're seeing sort of a steep increase in cases. We saw quite a high number of cases this time last year and by the time that we got to Memorial Day, early June, those cases had long since dissipated," Cyr said. "So I think given the track record we had in summer 2020, the fact that what people tend to do when they come here is outdoors, is lower risk for COVID-19 transmission, and I think we're expecting to have the vast majority of year-round residents who want a vaccine to get access to a vaccine long before the summer season here."
The senator added, "I'm of course cautious and a little guarded, but I'm optimistic that summer 2021 will resemble summer 2020."
Gary Thulander, managing director of Chatham Bars Inn, said he expects 2021 "will be the best year Chatham Bars Inn has ever had." He said he is optimistic, but also mindful that it is too early to become lax about pandemic precautions.
"Even though we have a blip right now that we have to be very, very careful with, demand is extremely strong," he said.
Matt Pitta of the Davenport Companies, which runs five Cape Cod resorts, a golf course and an array of other businesses, said there has been "an amazing influx" of interest for this summer.
The COVID-19 safety measures and protocols employed last summer remain in place and remain a priority, he said, as his company prepares for "an extremely busy, if not record-breaking, summer on Cape Cod."
"We knew from the beginning if a guest didn't feel safe, they wouldn't come," Pitta said.
As businesses hire staff and prepare for the pent-up demand for travel, Northcross and others said the entire region is focused on consistent progress towards vaccinations and squashing the latest spikes in cases in hopes of focusing on other matters soon enough.
"Today is April first, so we can now say that Memorial Day is next month," Northcross said. "That's the unofficial start to our summer season on Cape Cod and it's almost here."