The findings of a public health investigation on a small US town’s COVID-19 cluster could have serious implications in the UK and around the world.

First published in July 2021.

A week after the 4th July celebrations in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Town Manager Alex Morse told reporters that he realised that several positive cases of COVID-19 had occurred among beachgoers who had spent some time there.

A cluster associated with the coastal town has already recorded at least 882 COVID-19 cases, with 50 new cases reported over the past 24 hours. Seven people have been hospitalised, but no deaths have been reported, according to an update posted on social media on Thursday by Alex Morse. 74% of the cases are among vaccinated individuals, and 87% are men with a median age of 40, he added.

The year-long population of Provincetown is less than 3,000. However, in the summer months, population estimates in the small coastal resort town range from 19,000 to 60,000.

This is why, to help curb the spread of the cluster in and around Provincetown, the Select Board and local health officials immediately approved a new indoor mask mandate in town.


The initial findings of the investigation on the Provincetown cluster by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), could have serious implications in the United States, and around the world.

Indeed, until now, health officials believed that it was exceptionally rare for a vaccinated person to contract the virus and, if they did, it was unlikely that they would pass it on to others. That assumption, mostly based on studies earlier variants, was largely behind the CDC’s decision in May 2021 to tell vaccinated individuals that they could safely stop wearing masks indoors and in crowds.

The Delta variant, however, is known as COVID on steroids for a reason.

In an interview on Wednesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, US top infectious disease expert and Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told MSNBC: “What has changed is the virus.

Dr Fauci explained that when a vaccinated individual gets infected with the Delta variant, the level of virus in their nasopharynx is about 1,000 times higher than with the Alpha variant.”

As she announced new recommendations for Americans – among which to once again put on their masks indoors, even if they are vaccinated, and that everyone in schools (students, staff and visitors) should wear masks at all timesCDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters: “In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations, showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that causes COVID 19.

“Information on the Delta variants from several states and other countries, indicate that, in rare occasion, some vaccinated people infected with a Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.

This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation.

“What we’ve learned is that when we examine the rare or breakthrough infections and we look at the amount of virus in those people, it is pretty similar to the amount of virus in unvaccinated people.”

The CDC said more details and more unpublished data will be released on Friday, but according to Ken Dilanian, NBC News correspondent covering national security and intelligence, quoting his colleagues’ work, “New data suggests that fully vaccinated individuals are not just contracting COVID, but could be carrying higher levels of virus than previously understood, facilitating spread.”

CNN’s Don Lemon also broke the news on Thursday night that “according to CDC internal documents, the Delta coronavirus variant surging across the U.S. appears to cause more severe illness and spread as easily as chickenpox.”

The unpublished CDC document says that the Delta variant is about as transmissible as chickenpox, with each infected person, on average, infecting 8 or 9 other people. The document advises that the CDC should “acknowledge the war has changed” and recommends vaccine mandates and universal mask requirements.

Some will wonder whether this is the right moment for the UK government to open its borders to all vaccinated people from the United States and the EU for the summer, especially now that we know they may still catch COVID, be asymptomatic, and go on to unknowingly infect people in this country – or bring new variants with them? 


J.N. PAQUET, Author & Journalist, Editor of PMP Magazine.


Going Further:

[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 30 July 2021.]

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