Mass. remains on a COVID-19 plateau

Boston goes red but high-risk communities hold steady

FOR THE THIRD  week in a row, the state’s COVID-19 report indicated Massachusetts is perched on a coronavirus plateau, with the number of communities considered high risk for the virus holding steady and cases declining slightly. COVID-19 deaths, often a lagging indicator, continued to rise.

The number of communities considered high-risk for COVID-19 rose to 190, up two from last week and three from the week before that. Overall, 54 percent of the state’s communities are high risk, including four of the five largest municipalities.,

The stabilization in recent weeks represents a significant change. The number of communities identified as high-risk, or red, on the state’s COVID map had been rising so fast in the fall that the Baker administration in early November changed the metrics used to assign colors. With the change, the number of red communities fell from 121 to 16, but as the second surge began picking up steam the tally began rising again, first to 38, then to 62. It hit 158 on December 11 and reached the current plateau on December 17, with 187 communities designated red.

COVID-19 cases totaled 60,346 over the last two weeks, down 7.1 percent from last week’s report. It was the second straight week of decreasing case levels.

Deaths, however, continued to rise. There were 796 deaths from COVID-19 over the last two weeks, up 11 percent from the week before. The previous week also saw an 11 percent increase in deaths compared to the previous report.

Another troubling sign was the increased age of those being hospitalized. Gov. Charlie Baker said recently that Thanksgiving family gatherings brought about an intergenerational spread of the virus, as younger people returning home for the holiday tended to infect older people. Baker said hospitals were reporting those coming through their doors with COVID-19 were older, a trend that was confirmed with this week’s report, which showed the average age of those being hospitalized was 73, up 69 a week ago.

In the report issued on Thursday, those under 39 accounted for 50 percent of cases and 1.25 percent of deaths. Those over 70 accounted for 15 percent of cases and 83 percent of deaths.

The state as a whole remained high risk, reporting 58.3 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks and a positive test rate (positive tests divided by total tests) of 6.51 percent. In last week’s report, the state had 63.2 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of 6.14 percent.

At the county level, Berkshire County had the highest number of cases per 100,000 people – at 23.7. That number was down from 30.1 in last week’s report.  Hampden County, with 15.5 cases per 100,000 people, was second highest.

The number of red communities with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people totaled 12, down from 15 the week before. The list included Middleton (174 cases per 100,000 people), Lawrence (130.1), Chelsea (125.4), Ayer (124.4), Hanover (118.7), Gardner (115), Revere (110.9), Saugus (104.6), Everett (103.9), Fall River (102.9), Lynn (101.7), and Lynnfield (101).

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.

Four of the five largest municipalities in the state are now red, with Boston slipping into that category this week. Worcester, Springfield, and Lowell were already in that category, while Cambridge managed to remain yellow, or moderate risk.

There were two unusual developments at the municipal level in this week’s report. Nantucket remained red, but dropped from 141.4 cases per 100,000 people in last week’s report to 75.1 cases per 100,000 people in this week’s report. And the tiny town of Tyringham in Berkshire County, with a population of about 300 people, reported 118.3 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of 11.43 percent. But it was still labeled low risk because it had four positive cases over the last two weeks and has had only six overall.