CHICOPEE — Every morning Sherry Manyak gets up before the sun rises and immediately signs onto her computer hoping to snag a COVID-19 vaccine for a 90-year-old man who needs to be inoculated before pending heart surgery.
“I’m on a mission,” said Manyak, the director of the Chicopee Senior Center. “It’s frustrating. I’ve been getting up every morning at 4:30 a.m. for a week straight and I have not been able to book one appointment.”
The man, who also has three medical conditions that make him especially vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if he contracts COVID-19, is her top priority. But Manyak said she has been trolling multiple websites trying to find appointments for several hundred people 65 and older who have asked the senior center to help.
Her frustration comes as Chicopee officials announced that the city remains in the high-risk red category and cases continue to rise, even as nearby communities of Springfield and Holyoke have moved to the lower-risk yellow category.
On Thursday there were 162 active cases of COVID-19 in the city, an increase of 30 in one day. Over the past year, there have been a total of 3,579 cases in Chicopee and 26 people have died, said Lisa Sanders, the city health director.
State officials also reported that a Chicopee resident has contracted the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus, first spotted in the U.K., Sanders said.
“It is more contagious and it is in our state and in our community,” Sanders said. It may also be more deadly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But people do not have to take new precautions because the variant spreads the same way as COVID-19. Sanders urged people to continue to wash their hands, remain socially distant, avoid large gatherings and wear masks.
People are urged to get a vaccine when possible, but the need continues to far outpace availability.
Manyak said she finds it is even more difficult to make appointments as more groups including teachers, restaurant workers, grocery store clerks and those with two specific pre-existing health conditions are added to the eligibility list.
Another of her 90-year-old clients recently managed to get an appointment in Chelsea and decided to make the more than 90-minute drive because doses are scarce, Manyak said.
Mayor John L. Vieau said he is frustrated with the fact that the state still is not supplying the city’s vaccination site with doses, even though Chicopee continues to be in the high-risk category, is a Gateway City and has a sizable Latino population that has been hard-hit by the disease.
The city first set up a vaccination site at the Senior Center, but after state officials approved it, they were instead told to develop a regional site that could provide 750 shots a day, five days a week. Chicopee joined with Holyoke, Granby and South Hadley to create one at the Castle of Knights but still has not received any doses, he said.
“We are one of 11 sites and we are still waiting,” he said.
The city has also considering reducing the days of its drive-through testing site to once a week, but reversed that since cases are rising. City residents can be tested for free from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday and Wednesday at the RiverMills Senior Center.
The reasons for the growing infection rate varies amid increasing numbers of people being vaccinated.
The state has been allowing businesses to reopen and relaxing capacity requirements, people have been returning to communities from large spring break gatherings, and with warm weather coming people are being less cautious, Vieau said.
More than 1 million people have been vaccinated statewide, and 6,345 of the about 56,700 residents in the city have been fully vaccinated, Vieau said.