Two Dozen More Mass. Communities In Highest-Risk ‘Red Zone’ For Coronavirus

Two Dozen More Mass. Communities In Highest-Risk 'Red Zone' For Coronavirus


Massachusetts now has 63 cities and towns in the “red zone,” which denotes the highest rate of coronavirus infection, according to state data released Wednesday night. The data show a steady rise in case rates similar to last week’s increase, with, once again, 20 or more additional communities being rated at the highest risk.

Highest risk means an average daily case rate of more than eight cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. Below that is the “yellow zone,” with four to eight cases per 100,000 residents. Data released Wednesday show the overall case rate of Massachusetts is 8.7 positive cases per 100,000 people — putting the state as a whole in the red zone.

Dr. Josh Barocas, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, said that there are some towns headed in the right direction. Dracut, Dudley and Southbridge are among those that saw their case rates decrease and moved from the red zone to the yellow zone.

“I think, though, the concerning thing for me is that we have more towns and cities in the red,” Barocas said. “We have the same number of towns and cities overall that are now in the yellow as compared to last week. … What seems to be the trend overall is that across the state, rates seem to be getting a little bit worse.”

Framingham is now in its seventh week in the red zone, with a case rate of almost 18 coronavirus infections per 100,000 people — up from around 13 infections per 100,000 residents last week.

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer told GBH News that the city has had 67 new coronavirus cases between last Friday and Wednesday, bringing their case total to 2,434, and one more death, for a total number of coronavirus-related deaths to 138.

Spicer said the city’s latest data show the average age of residents getting infected is trending younger, to under 40 years old. Spicer said young people and teenagers especially pose a “huge concern” for infection.

“Some of the things that I know were concerning us, say like a skate park and kids getting together and not necessarily socially distancing or wearing face coverings,” she said. “And I subsequently closed the skate park because it was really challenging to manage, as well as basketball. I’ve taken down the nets — and it’s the last thing I want to do, is keep kids from getting out and getting exercise and having recreation. But I also don’t want to contribute to what I know is where the challenge is coming from.”

Spicer said they’ve also found that about two-thirds of new positive cases in Framingham are people whose first language is not English.

“That’s one of the reasons that we have a longstanding practice of putting things out in multiple languages, but we’re intensifying that effort,” Spicer said.

Barocas said that’s a good example of following the data to address specific problems with infection control. He also said that right now, hospitalizations and deaths — whose changes have not mirrored the uptick in cases — are perhaps not the best metric to pay attention to. He said if testing capacity cannot keep up as respiratory illnesses increase in the coming months, or if masks are in short supply, those would better indicators of a second surge in infections.

“I think that we need to start looking at these metrics of resources,” Barocas said, “because by all indicators, I think that we’re still going to have a pretty severe [COVID-19] season, especially since we have this coupled with influenza. But the hope is that some of these preventive measures, masks and social distancing, are decreasing the viral burden.”

Spicer said she’s hoping Framingham will be turning the corner at some point and getting out of the red zone. She also said it’s been important to consistently re-evaluate her city’s responses and make changes if they aren’t measuring up.

“I think every one of us — every mayor, every town manager, every city council — they have learned that there’s no roadmap for this,” Spicer said. “But if you are working closely, as we’ve all been working together within the state of Massachusetts, I think we can beat this.”

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