PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — By the Fourth of July, Provincetown’s tourist season had built to a prepandemic thrum. Restaurants were booked solid, and snaking lines formed outside the dance clubs. There were conga lines, drag brunches and a pervasive, joyous sense of relief.
“We really thought we had beat Covid,” said Alex Morse, who arrived this spring as town manager. “We had internalized those messages, that life will be back to normal. We beat this. We are the most vaccinated community in the state.”
Mr. Morse didn’t think much of it, five days after the holiday, when the town’s Board of Health logged two new cases of coronavirus. A week later, though, the cluster of cases associated with gatherings in Provincetown was growing by 50 to 100 cases per day. Alongside the numbers was an unsettling fact: Most of the people testing positive were vaccinated.
Provincetown, a quirky beach community at the tip of Cape Cod, has provided a sobering case study for the country, abruptly tugging Americans back to the caution of winter and spring.
issue new indoor mask guidance, saying viral loads among the vaccinated people there were found to be as high as the unvaccinated.
A community of health-conscious, left-leaning Northeasterners, known as a vacation mecca for gay men, Provincetown had one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, upward of 95 percent among permanent residents, Mr. Morse estimates.
On the weekend of July 4, it was also crowded. Around 60,000 people had jammed into a narrow spit of land, where many congregated, maskless, on sweaty dance floors and at house parties.
From the 965 cases that scientists have traced to gatherings in Provincetown, among them 238 residents, scientists have drawn important conclusions about the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has helped drive a rise in hospitalizations across the country, mostly among the unvaccinated.
The good news is that people infected in Provincetown were, for the most part, not seriously ill; no deaths were reported, and only seven people were hospitalized. The bad news is that the variant is extraordinarily contagious — as contagious as chickenpox, the C.D.C. said — and people with so-called breakthrough infections may spread the virus to others.
was taking reports of positive coronavirus cases — all gay men, with an average age of 30 to 35, many of whom who had seen a doctor for other reasons, like flu symptoms or sexually transmitted infections, not suspecting the coronavirus. What puzzled him, he said, was that so many of the infected people were vaccinated.
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“I couldn’t believe, frankly, that vaccinated people were getting and spreading it, the way that the contact tracing people were saying,” he said. “I had that moment of saying, ‘I don’t believe that data is accurate.’”