Baker all-in on COVID-19 community approach

On Monday, reopening plans will vary by municipality

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION on Tuesday went all-in on its community-by-community approach to COVID-19, allowing lower-risk municipalities to move forward with reopening plans while putting cities and towns considered high risk on hold.

Since community-by-community COVID-19 data were broken out in August, the Baker administration has used the information to target testing and other resources where they are needed most. Now the governor is giving communities considered lower risk the green light to reopen businesses more quickly than communities considered high risk.

The shift in approach was accompanied by a change in nomenclature. The governor initially broke communities down based on their positive cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks. Those communities with more than 8 cases per 100,000 were considered high-risk, those with between 4 and 8 cases moderate risk, and those lower than 4 cases per 100,000 or fewer than 5 cases overall were considered low-risk. On a color-coded map, the four groupings were red for high risk, yellow for moderate risk, and green and gray for low risk.

On Tuesday, the governor and his top aides lumped all the yellow, green, and gray communities in the same low-risk category.

At a State House press conference, Baker said the moderate risk category was no longer needed because many communities have been bouncing back and forth between low-risk and moderate risk and he saw no need to make the distinction.

Baker said he is not overly worried about a problem he was concerned about early on in the pandemic – that phasing in reopening plans by community could lead to people crossing from red communities into yellow, green, or gray communities and spreading contamination. The governor said he would much rather have people crossing municipal borders to take part in organized events with rules on wearing masks and social distancing rather than holding big barbecues in their backyards  with no rules on masks and distancing.

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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.

Boston has seen its cases per 100,000 rising over the last several weeks, hitting 7.9 last Wednesday, just below the level for high-risk. Baker said it is very likely Boston will bump up into the high-risk category soon because of all of its colleges, hospitals, and other institutions where COVID-19 flare-ups are likely.

The state of Massachusetts as a whole has seen the number of cases per 100,000 residents rising over the last few weeks, from 4 per 100,000 residents on August 26 to 4.9 on September 24.