State gift card incentive expanded to more COVID-19 vaccine clinics
SHREWSBURY, Mass. – Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance (CMRPHA) officials urge residents to give themselves the gift of a healthy holiday season by taking precautions to stay safe from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a severe flu season, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). They call on the community to take immediate steps to protect its most vulnerable residents and ensure effective operation of the local health care system.
Young children and older adults continue to be most at risk, and local hospitals are still experiencing capacity challenges and long emergency room wait times due to staffing shortages and overwhelming caseloads.
The Massachusetts Department of Health (MDPH) recently elevated the state’s flu severity level to Very High, and the Executive Office of Health & Human Services announced temporary measures to ease the burden on healthcare facilities. Worcester County’s COVID-19 Community Level remains at Medium.
Spread of all three viruses can be prevented by wearing masks when indoors and around others and staying home when sick. Flu and RSV can also be limited by frequently washing hands with soap and water and cleaning infected surfaces. Vaccines continue to offer the most protection from both COVID-19 and the flu and can prevent serious illness and death.
Specifically, health officials strongly recommend that all residents be up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccine, including the new bivalent booster that was made available on Sept. 1. The updated booster has shown to offer better protection against the most recent subvariants than a vaccine primary series alone and the previous monovalent booster.
In an effort to improve COVID-19 vaccination and booster rates, the CMRPHA and its community partners are working to increase the number of local clinics, and they have collaborated with MDPH to expand the availability of $75 gift cards for individuals who receive a dose while supplies last. Officials credit the incentive with a recent increase in vaccination and laud its timing, giving people a financial boost during the gift-giving season and a time of rising costs.
Gift cards are available at the weekly clinics located in Worcester at Central Community Branch YMCA (766 Main Street) every Monday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and at the Worcester Public Library (3 Salem Square) every Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and every Saturday (excluding Dec. 24) from 12 – 5 p.m.
Additional clinics offering the gift cards can be found at mass.gov/info-details/free-family-friendly-covid-19-vaccination-clinics, and new clinics will be posted to the Worcester Department of Health & Human Services and Division of Public Health social media accounts (facebook.com/WorcesterHHS and twitter.com/WorcesterDPH).
COVID-19 testing is also still one of the most effective tools to prevent the virus’ spread, and residents have multiple options to get tested. The UMass Memorial Health Mercantile Center Clinic (100 Front Street, Worcester) offers PCR testing in addition to vaccines and boosters (gift cards not available) every Monday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and every Thursday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
For a limited time, households can order four more at-home test kits through the federal government and United States Post Office at covidtests.gov. At-home rapid tests are also available at no cost at most CMRPHA-run vaccine clinics.
Officials also urge residents to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible due to the severity and early onset of the current flu season. Over the last week, Shrewsbury had at least 23 new cases of flu.
The Town’s COVID-19 data dashboard is updated every Friday and is available at worcesterma.gov/coronavirus.
As of Dec. 16, the seven-day daily average of new positive COVID-19 cases in Shrewsbury was 5.4. The Town’s two-week test positivity rate was 9.41 percent, and COVID-19 levels in wastewater are elevated since Thanksgiving.
Eighty-six percent of Shrewsbury residents are fully vaccinated, and 98 percent have now received at least one dose. 59 percent have received at least one booster dose.