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Despite Vaccine Shortage, Cambridge Proceeds with Phased Reopening

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In an update to the City Council on Monday, Cambridge officials announced that the city is moving forward with its reopening plans, despite an ongoing vaccine supply shortage in the city.

The city officially entered “Phase Three, Step 1” of its reopening process on Monday as case numbers continue to improve, according to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale.

Under the new phase, gyms, museums, and restaurants can operate at 40 percent capacity, up from 25 percent. In addition, libraries can resume contactless pickup. Indoor gatherings, however, are still limited to 10 individuals and outdoor events must remain under 25 people.

New Covid-19 infections have decreased since January, when the positivity rate in Cambridge reached its peak. The city continues to ramp up its testing regime, administering 4,919 tests last week and 31,595 last month, according to DePasquale.

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There have been 4,489 confirmed cases in Cambridge since the start of the pandemic, with an active case rate of approximately 21 percent.

Due to the statewide shortage of vaccine doses, Cambridge still does not have a public vaccination site. Instead, Cambridge Health Alliance, Mount Auburn Hospital, and Beth Israel Hospital are reaching out to eligible patients to administer doses via individual appointment, according to DePasquale.

DePasquale said that while Cambridge has the infrastructural capacity to host a public site, he reiterated the city has “no control or authority” over the acquisition of additional doses, a responsibility that lies with the state. As of Feb. 5, Massachusetts vaccinators have administered 754,874 vaccines — 61 percent of the doses provided by the federal government.

“Our teams are ready to go as soon as the state provides us the vaccines needed to provide a site,” DePasquale said. “As you can imagine every community is trying to have vaccine locations in their community, not going to a neighboring community. We will continue to advocate for a site in Cambridge.”

“There is a possibility that we will not be able to have a Cambridge-specific public site in our city,” he added.

Claude Jacob, the city’s chief public health officer, said Cambridge is prioritizing residents over age 75 as it waits for the state to approve vaccinations for individuals over age 65 and those with at least two comorbidities.

“We are making sure that we are at the ready, so that we can at least ensure that we have ample vaccines on hand,” Jacob said.

According to Jacob, the state increased Cambridge’s vaccine allotment on Friday from 100 to 400 vaccines per week, which has allowed the city to ramp up its distribution efforts. For now, its efforts are focused on vaccinating the 1,300 residents and staff who live and work at the Cambridge Housing Authority’s 10 senior residence facilities.

Massachusetts has also launched a $2.5 million dollar public awareness campaign, called “Trust the Facts, Get the Vax,” to raise public awareness about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

“There's still even some misinformation out there, and so our goal is really to respond and reach out to specific communities around vaccine safety, confidence, rollout, and access,” Jacob said.

After the meeting, Councilor Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 said it was “frustrating” to hear how little control the city has over vaccine distribution compared to Covid-19 testing, though she was encouraged by the city’s vaccination efforts so far.

“It was both heartening because many of our first responders, our homeless population [were] prioritized, and are now either getting the second dose or have gotten the second dose,” she said. “But it's very, very frustrating to realize that there's so many other people who are on the priority list eventually, but haven't been able to get it yet.”

—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at ryan.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer David R. Shaw can be reached at david.shaw@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidrwshaw.

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