Baker targets 8 communities with COVID-19 testing

Data suggest problems not as severe as governor says

This story was updated Wednesday evening at 9:30 with information supplied by the Baker administration.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER is launching a “stop the spread” testing initiative on Friday in eight communities that he said as a group represent 9 percent of the state’s population and 27 percent of the positive tests for COVID-19 over the last two weeks.

At a State House press conference on Wednesday, Baker said on-demand, free tests will be offered through August 14 in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford.

Officials from some of the communities said they were surprised at being singled out as COVID-19 hotspots, and recent data suggest the problem may not be as severe as the governor indicated.

Baker said the eight municipalities scored high on four key metrics – an elevated total spread of the disease, an elevated spread of the disease over the last two weeks, a high positive test volume over the last two weeks, and a declining number of tests since the end of April.

Baker said the positive test rate (positive tests as a percentage of total tests) was around 8 percent in each of the eight communities, while the statewide average is hovering just under 2 percent. Total testing in the eight communities was down 40 percent since the end of April, the governor said.

Several of the communities welcomed the governor’s new testing initiative, but officials in Marlborough and New Bedford seemed a bit surprised their communities were included.

Arthur Vigeant, the mayor of Marlborough, said his municipality of nearly 40,000 people currently has 17 active COVID-19 cases.

Vigeant said the governor’s data may be thrown off a bit by the fact that the local hospital, where COVID-19 testing is conducted, attracts patients from a wide area and that a couple nursing homes in the community have experienced high infection rates.

Jonathan Carvalho, a spokesman for Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, said the city’s positive test rate for the week of June 21-27 was 5 percent. The city’s website indicates the seven-day average for new cases was just under 10 as of June 18, down from 15.5 on June 2.

At 9:30 Wednesday night, the state’s COVID-19 command center released the data used to select the eight communities. The positive test rate over the last two weeks ran from 4.9 percent in Marlborough to 13.6 percent in Chelsea. Lawrence was 10.4 percent and the other five were in the 6.1 percent (Lowell) to 8.5 percent (Everett) range. All of the communities had seen a sharp dropoff in tests over the last two weeks; Lawrence was the lowest at 11.4 percent and Chelsea the highest at 53.8 percent.

 

Comparable information for just the last week from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated the situation is rapidly improving in the eight communities. According to that information, the positive test rate for the last week is well below 8 percent for all of the communities except for Lawrence, which is at 8.4 percent.

Everett had the lowest positive test rate of the eight communities over the last week. With only 5 new cases and a total of 331 tests. Everett’s positive test rate was 1.5 percent, below the statewide average.

Marlborough was second lowest, with seven new cases, 280 new tests, and a positive test rate of 2.5 percent. Chelsea was third lowest, with 11 new cases, 287 new tests, and a positive test rate of 3.8 percent.

The positive test rate over the last week was 4.1 percent in Lynn, 4.2 percent in Lowell, 4.7 percent in New Bedford, and 4.9 percent in Fall River.

Here’s what else Baker said at his State House press conference:

He said he is awaiting the results of an investigation into allegations that Steven A. Florio, the commissioner of the state’s Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, dressed as a Nazi and also wore garb resembling the uniforms of the Ku Klux Klan while he was a member of a fraternity at Gaullaudet University 30 years ago.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“There’s no tolerance for intolerance. I’ll leave it at that,” said Baker. The allegations were reported on Wednesday by the Boston Globe. Baker said he first learned of the situation about a week ago.

Asked why he needed to wait for the results of an investigation when Florio reportedly admitted what he had done, Baker said the alleged incidents occurred 30 years ago. “It’s 30 years ago,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to follow up on that.”