Provincetown's Covid Outbreak Shows 'It's Nowhere Near Over'

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Provincetown, Mass., the quirky assemblage astatine the extremity of Cape Cod, thought it was harmless to instrumentality to prepandemic partying. It wasn’t.

Provincetown, Mass., which has 1  of the highest vaccination rates successful  the country, has seen a spike successful  Covid-19 cases.
Credit...Matt Cosby for The New York Times

July 31, 2021Updated 3:53 p.m. ET

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — By the Fourth of July, Provincetown’s tourer play had built to a prepandemic thrum. Restaurants were booked solid, and snaking lines formed extracurricular the creation clubs. There were conga lines, resistance brunches and a pervasive, joyous consciousness of relief.

“We truly thought we had bushed Covid,” said Alex Morse, who arrived this outpouring arsenic municipality manager. “We had internalized those messages, that beingness volition beryllium backmost to normal. We bushed this. We are the astir vaccinated assemblage successful the state.”

Mr. Morse didn’t deliberation overmuch of it, 5 days aft the holiday, erstwhile the town’s Board of Health logged 2 caller cases of coronavirus. A week later, though, the clump of cases associated with gatherings successful Provincetown was increasing by 50 to 100 cases per day. Alongside the numbers was an unsettling fact: Most of the radical investigating affirmative were vaccinated.

Provincetown, a quirky formation assemblage astatine the extremity of Cape Cod, has provided a sobering lawsuit survey for the country, abruptly tugging Americans backmost to the caution of wintertime and spring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the clump connected Friday arsenic cardinal to its determination to issue caller indoor disguise guidance, saying viral loads among the vaccinated radical determination were recovered to beryllium arsenic precocious arsenic the unvaccinated.

A assemblage of health-conscious, left-leaning Northeasterners, known arsenic a abrogation mecca for cheery men, Provincetown had 1 of the highest vaccination rates successful the country, upward of 95 percent among imperishable residents, Mr. Morse estimates.

On the play of July 4, it was besides crowded. Around 60,000 radical had jammed into a constrictive spit of land, wherever galore congregated, maskless, connected sweaty creation floors and astatine location parties.

From the 965 cases that scientists person traced to gatherings successful Provincetown, among them 238 residents, scientists person drawn important conclusions astir the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has helped thrust a rise successful hospitalizations crossed the country, mostly among the unvaccinated.

The bully quality is that radical infected successful Provincetown were, for the astir part, not earnestly ill; nary deaths were reported, and lone 7 radical were hospitalized. The atrocious quality is that the variant is extraordinarily contagious — arsenic contagious arsenic chickenpox, the C.D.C. said — and radical with alleged breakthrough infections whitethorn dispersed the microorganism to others.

In Provincetown, this quality has near down a feeling of whiplash.

“We are winding the timepiece backmost to possibly April oregon May of 2021,” said Susan Peskin, a longtime summertime visitant who moved determination full-time 4 years ago. “Now it is clear, arsenic wide arsenic day, that you tin beryllium vaccinated and inactive get Covid. Bottom line, we person to truly ticker ourselves and not deliberation it is over. It is obscurity adjacent over.”

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Credit...Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Ms. Peskin, a fiscal analyst, remembers however unusual it felt to fto her defender down this spring. One day, she went into a edifice for blessed hr and saw the Plexiglas obstruction had vanished, truthful she could look the bartender consecutive successful the face.

Through the tallness of the pandemic, Provincetown had followed strict protocols. She had ne'er seen the bottommost fractional of her nail technician’s face. It was jarring the archetypal clip she walked into a concern without a mask.

“It was similar putting a toed successful the water,” she said. “Slowly but surely, I was unwinding everything I had enactment successful place. It was an unwinding of fear.”

Soon, visitors were arriving successful Provincetown successful waves, thing Ms. Peskin watched with a twinge of apprehension. Beside Herring Cove Beach, where, connected a mean summertime day, 100 oregon 200 bicycles mightiness beryllium lined up connected the fence, she counted 5 times that many.

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Credit...Matt Cosby for The New York Times

So galore cheery men poured successful for Circuit Party week, the archetypal week of July, that radical connected societal media started sharing photos of the lines extracurricular clubs, snaking for blocks.

That play marked “the champion weeks our businesses person had successful a precise agelong time,” Mr. Morse, the municipality manager, said. It was, helium said, a consciousness of merchandise that they each needed.

“There was a corporate feeling that everyone had been done truthful much, individually and collectively, implicit the past 18 months,” helium said.

Steve Katsurinis, the seat of the municipality Board of Health, said the venues were successful enactment with C.D.C. guidance.

“We were told, ‘Now you’re vaccinated, and everyone is vaccinated, you tin spell retired and unrecorded the pre-Covid lifestyle,’” helium said. “People did, they were surviving with gusto. We were led to believe, ‘If you get the vaccine, you tin spell to a creation club, you tin spell to a location enactment and conscionable idiosyncratic and marque out.’ That’s what we thought the concern was.”

By the extremity of the week, Mr. Katsurinis was taking reports of affirmative coronavirus cases — each cheery men, with an mean property of 30 to 35, galore of whom who had seen a doc for different reasons, similar flu symptoms oregon sexually transmitted infections, not suspecting the coronavirus. What puzzled him, helium said, was that truthful galore of the infected radical were vaccinated.

“I couldn’t believe, frankly, that vaccinated radical were getting and spreading it, the mode that the interaction tracing radical were saying,” helium said. “I had that infinitesimal of saying, ‘I don’t judge that information is accurate.’”

Days passed, helium said, earlier it was wide that the microorganism circulating was the Delta variant, “and I went, oh, OK. Delta is simply a antithetic thing.”

“I don’t deliberation we could person anticipated what Delta would bash here,” helium said.

Infectious illness specialists person praised the community’s meticulous interaction tracing, carried retired mostly by 4 nurses successful Barnstable County, for helping them to recognize the scope of the outbreak.

As municipality leaders debated what wellness measures to reintroduce, Mr. Morse said helium was acrophobic astir overreacting, oregon making decisions “based connected the loudest and astir frantic voices.”

But successive waves of tests showed a rising positivity rate, hitting a highest of 15 percent connected July 15. The municipality issued an indoor disguise advisory 4 days later, Mr. Morse said, and made it mandatory connected July 25.

“We are entering a caller epoch of having to unrecorded with the virus,” helium said. “In the agelong term, it’s not going to beryllium feasible to disguise up 1 play and fto it spell the next.”

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Credit...Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Late-summer Provincetown is simply a antithetic Provincetown — inactive crowded, but cautious, alert for atrocious outcomes. The town’s positivity complaint dropped to 4.6 percent connected Thursday; its disguise mandate volition automatically go an advisory, and past beryllium lifted, if it remains low.

Rick Murray, the wide manager of the Crown and Anchor, a beachside inn that houses bars and nightclubs, says it is portion of the community’s DNA to beryllium “very, precise responsible” successful a wellness crisis.

“When the AIDS epidemic came, we took attraction of our own, and we volition instrumentality attraction of our ain now,” said Mr. Murray, who has been H.I.V. affirmative for 37 years. He said helium anticipated that guarding against the microorganism volition beryllium challenging “for different 2 oregon 3 years, easily.”

“This is not going to spell away,” helium said.

It was elemental capable for Liz Carney, 50, who owns the Four Eleven Gallery connected Commercial Street, to revert to strict coronavirus protocols. There was musculus memory. For an opening scheduled for Friday, she went backmost to that old, restrained style: masks required, nary beverages served, and lone 3 radical allowed successful the assemblage astatine a time.

Thinking backmost to the exuberant crowds of June, she said it was “a spot naïve” to deliberation it was harmless to congregate wrong — but also, she misses them.

“There was conscionable a joyousness and an exhilaration,” she said. “It was precise exciting. I privation I had taken a twirl connected the creation level portion I had a chance.”

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