Red communities double; Lawrence cases keep rising

As infections mount, deaths grow more slowly

THE NUMBER of communities considered high risk for COVID-19 doubled again this week, while the number of deaths statewide continued to creep upward at a much slower pace.

Three weeks ago the Baker administration revised the metrics it uses to determine a high-risk community, which caused the number to drop from 121 to 16. Since then, the number of high-risk, or red, communities has started rising at a rapid rate, going from 16 three weeks ago to 31 a week ago to 62 on Thursday.

Lawrence, where state and local officials have been trying for weeks to rein in the disease, continued to slip out of control. The municipality reported a whopping 108.1 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks and a positive test rate (positive tests divided by total tests) of 13.01 percent. Last week, Lawrence was at 82.6 cases per 100,000 people with a positive test rate of 11.78 percent.

Only Norfolk, where an outbreak at a prison inflated the numbers, was higher – at 116.6 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of 10.01 percent. Both Norfolk numbers were down from the previous week.

Other communities on the very high end were Fall River, at 86.2 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of 10.88; Tisbury (83.9 cases); Marion (77.7 cases); Shirley (71.2); Chelsea (69.3); Swansea (65.8); Everett (65.2); Lowell (64.2); Leominster (63.3); and Lynn (61.6).

The state as a whole reported 29.4 cases per 100,000 people with a positive test rate of 3.05 percent. Last week, the state numbers were 20.7 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of 2.92 percent.

Despite the sharp runup in cases, COVID-19 deaths increased much more moderately. Deaths over the two-week period from November 1 through November 14  totaled 319, up from the 280 reported a week ago and the 241 the week before that. The trendlines indicate this second surge of COVID-19 is leading to high infection rates that don’t translate into high death rates, at least not yet. Deaths are lower because infections have been most pronounced among younger people, who are less affected by the virus, and because hospitals have improved the quality of care for COVID-19 patients since last spring,

Daily statistics followed a similar trend. The number of cases reported on Thursday was 2,532, while deaths rose by 28.

Data released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education indicate there were 398 new cases among K-12 students between November 12 and November 18. Another 254 staffers also tested positive. The numbers the previous week were 191 students and 157 staff. There are approximately 450,000 students in the state’s schools and 75,000 staff.

The guidelines the Baker administration began using three weeks ago break communities into three groups based on population size and measure risk based on different metrics – the number of overall cases in smaller communities and a combination of cases per 100,000 people and the positive test rate in larger ones.

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.

The previous metric was a one-size-fits-all approach that used cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks. Under the new metrics, the new starting point for designation as a red community was raised from 8 cases per 100,000 people to 10 cases per 100,000.

As of Thursday, there were 62 red, or high-risk, communities and 133 yellow, or moderate risk, municipalities. The remaining 156 communities are considered low risk. Boston and Worcester fall in the yellow category.

The color coding is a way for communities to evaluate how they are doing relative to each other. Being red for three consecutive weeks also means a community has to move backwards a step on the state’s reopening schedule. The colors can also influence whether a community can move its schools to some form of in-person learning,  although the Baker administration has said even red communities can move to in-person learning as long as the coronavirus is not spreading inside schools.