Public Health Updates

February 20, 2024

Hello, in this update from the Amherst Public Health Department you will find information on:

  • COVID-19
  • Opioid Settlement Funds 

COVID-19

As predicted, rates of respiratory illness in our region continue to ebb and flow. Hospitalizations for acute respiratory illness in Hampshire County came down a bit at the end of January and then rose again slightly in the first week of February. Wastewater surveillance reports showed another significant spike in COVID-19 from a sample taken on February 8th, but this quickly came back down within the next few days. While wastewater prevalence does not necessarily correlate to more cases, it is an indication of increased infection in the community. There is anecdotal information to support this increase – we have been hearing more reports from colleagues and visitors to the Health Department about COVID cases at home or among friends. This is likely a regional trend as wastewater concentrations in the Northeast are high. 

The good news is that COVID disease is still generally mild with COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths continuing to decrease. Long COVID prevalence is decreasing slowly, largely as a result of a decline in severe disease. There are also news reports that the CDC may be moving to change isolation guidance since spreading COVID is less consequential and many Americans (23%) do not have paid sick time, which can make five days of isolation challenging.  As of this writing, the isolation guidance remains unchanged (see below) but we will be keeping an eye out for any updates from the CDC and will update this page accordingly. 

We do want to reiterate that vaccination is still the best form of protection against COVID infection and against long COVID. A recent study showed that the more vaccines you get, the less likely you will get long COVID. The CDC recommends everyone stay up to date with their vaccinations, including getting the latest updated vaccine. They are no longer considered "boosters" but rather yearly vaccinations like the flu shot. 

If you received your last COVID booster before September 12, 2023, you are now eligible for the current updated vaccine, which has been shown to offer good protection against the current new variants. 

  • Flu and COVID vaccines are widely available in our community through primary care providers or at pharmacies. Amherst is part of the Hampshire Public Health Shared Services Collaborative which means Amherst residents can receive vaccines through free clinics organized through the Collaborative.  Click here for an updated list of local clinics with information on how to register.
  • If you are uninsured or under-insured you can get a COVID or Flu vaccine at the Amherst Public Health Department. Stop by and learn more or give us a call at 413-259-3077.
  • The Public Health Department is currently offering free at-home COVID tests to community members. Stop by the Department to pick up yours while supplies last. 

The Public Health Department advises everyone to continue to practice basic infection prevention and to follow the below isolation guidance for COVID until the CDC recommendations officially change. 

Stay safe and be well.

Practice infection prevention

    1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth 
    3. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and throw out tissues after use
    4. Avoid close contact with people who are sick
    5. Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects with soap and water or a disinfectant 
    6. Improve indoor air quality by increasing ventilation and/or running an air filter
  • If you have symptoms (runny nose, coughing, sneezing, body aches, fever)
    1. Stay home 
      • Allow yourself time to rest and recover and minimize the spread of illness to others
    2. Take a home COVID test 
      • If you test positive, follow the isolation guidance, which include isolating for the first five days of illness and masking in public from days 6 to 10. 
      • If you test negative, you do not need to isolate, but it is recommended that you stay home and/or wear a mask in public until you feel well so as to minimize the spread of respiratory illness to others. It is also recommended that you do another home test in 48 hours to confirm the negative result.  
  • If you were exposed to someone with COVID but do not have symptoms, follow the exposure guidance, which include wearing a high-quality mask when you are around others indoors for 10 days from when you were exposed.
  • Take care of yourself and seek treatment if necessary
    1. Most people with respiratory illness have mild cases and can recover at home. Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are usually all that’s needed.
    2. Older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and people who are unvaccinated are more likely to get severe illness resulting from COVID or flu infection. Pregnant individuals and young children may also have a higher risk of flu complications. There are medications to treat both COVID and flu that may help. They must be prescribed by a health care provider and started within a few days after symptoms begin. If you fall into any of these increased risk categories, do not delay contacting your healthcare practitioner if you feel you may need treatment.

Please reach out to the Public Health Department with any questions about COVID and other respiratory illnesses. You can email us at publichealth@amherstma.gov or call 413 259 3077.

Resources:

Opioid Settlement Funds

Amherst Public Health collaborated with Hampshire HOPE - the region's opioid prevention coalition - in the development of a survey to gather community feedback on how the opioid settlement funds which have been allocated to municipalities in the county should be spent. We want to hear from you! Click here for the Survey!

Please consider completing the survey - it should not take much more than 10 minutes - and sharing it with others, especially those who have been most affected by the opioid crisis. For more information about the opioid settlement funds, click here.