State begins targeting COVID-19 spread in 33 communities

Chelsea, Revere, Lynn, and Everett called high risk

A CLUSTER of working-class cities remain the most hard-hit by COVID-19 in Massachusetts, as Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced new state assistance for virus hotspots.

Although state officials have for months been releasing community-level information on COVID-19 spread, Baker on Tuesday announced a new effort with enhanced data to identify municipalities with particularly high rates of the virus and to work with local officials to stop the spread.

The four cities with the highest case rates over the last two weeks were Chelsea, Revere, Lynn, and Everett. The four, labeled red communities by the Baker administration, all have more than eight cases per 100,000 residents, well above the statewide average of 3.2.

There are 29 other communities considered moderate risk for COVID-19, with between four and eight cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. Those communities are labeled yellow. The remaining 318 municipalities have less than four cases per 100,000 residents (green) or less than five cases overall (white) over the last two weeks.

The moderate-risk communities tend to be clustered around Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, and scattered a bit to the north and south of Boston. The communities generally are urban, densely populated areas, but there are a number of exceptions, including Georgetown, Middleton, Maynard, and Wrentham.

Baker said that while most communities are seeing virus cases decrease, certain communities “require specific strategies to attack COVID there and work with them to stop the spread.” Baker said the administration hopes to work closely with local government officials in each high and moderate risk municipality to tailor specific strategies to that community.

This could include providing additional capability for testing, contact tracing, or quarantining. It could involve helping communities access more federal money.

It could also include increased enforcement of state guidelines that prohibit large gatherings and require face coverings at all gatherings where 10 or more people are present. There could be targeted enforcement, including fines, of businesses or hosts that violate state guidelines.

Baker said enforcement actions would likely come in response to specific complaints, and officials will not be looking to issue citations but to ask residents to put on masks and socially distance.  “The idea is not to be issuing big fines,” Baker said. “The idea is to either make sure people are abiding by gathering rules or guidance and send people home if they’re not.”

Baker said state and local governments could also authorize the shutdown of locations such as parks, playgrounds, or businesses that are discovered through contact tracing to have contributed to the virus’s spread.

State officials will also work on public awareness campaigns to alert residents about state guidelines and steps they can take to prevent the spread of the virus.

Baker said the state’s efforts would be driven by the requests of local officials. “The lieutenant governor and I reached out to all these communities in the past couple of days, and we want to partner with them in whatever way makes the most sense to help them deal with the spread in their communities,” Baker said.

Gov. Charlie Baker gazes up at a map of COVID-19 cases by municipality. (Pool photo by Sam Doran of State House News Service)

Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders warned residents in the moderate and high-risk communities to be particularly vigilant about wearing face coverings, washing hands, staying six feet apart, not sharing food or drink, and avoiding large gatherings and play dates. “The virus doesn’t care about boundaries and certainly takes every opening any of us give it,” Baker said.

Baker said in speaking to officials in the high and moderate-risk communities, the themes that kept coming up were that people were gathering in larger numbers, holding parties, and not wearing face coverings. He added that many officials reported they were concerned about graduation parties. “Over and over again what folks said is there are too many informal gatherings, there are too many people at them, and nobody’s wearing face coverings,” Baker said.

Effective Tuesday, Baker changed state rules regarding gathering sizes to allow no more than 50 people to gather outdoors, down from 100, on public or private property. He also required face masks at any gathering where more than 10 people from multiple households are mixing. Baker said the message is if someone hosts a get-together at their house or in their backyard “people need to wear face coverings and they need to respect the fact we still have a lot of asymptomatic transmission going on.”

Sudders said families in hard-hit communities should consider wearing face coverings inside their home if a member of the family goes to work regularly or if there is an elderly person living there.

Local officials echoed Baker’s concerns.

Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee said Lynn’s virus numbers had dropped in July but ticked up the last 10 days. Contact tracing is showing that it is due to house parties, barbeques, birthday parties, and baby showers, he said. “People are getting together with people outside their circle,” McGee said. “If they’re asymptomatic, we’re seeing a spread.”

McGee said the uptick has been in people ages 18 to 40. “The virus isn’t taking any vacations. We need to be aware of that. We need to be vigilant as a community and work together to continue to follow the guidelines,” McGee said.

In Everett, the mayor on Monday implemented a mandatory mask policy, requiring all residents to wear masks when in public. Deanna Deveney, a spokeswoman for Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, said city officials were finding people gathering in parks or playing basketball without face coverings.

But city officials say the virus’s spread is not only due to people ignoring public safety guidelines. Deveney said Everett has a lot of residents who work in essential professions, at grocery stores, in gas stations, or as home health aides. “Those are the type of jobs you can’t work remotely,” she said.

Everett also has a lot of multigenerational housing. A triple-decker, for example, could be home to three generations of a family, which makes it easier for the virus to spread.

The same hard-hit communities previously worked together on creating a place for homeless residents to isolate and outfitting a hotel where sick residents could isolate from their families. McGee said conversations between the cities are continuing.

The list of 29 moderate-risk communities include Boston and nearby communities such as Quincy, Randolph, Winthrop, Hull, Saugus, Malden, Salem, and Peabody. There are a number of Gateway Cities, including Brockton, Taunton, Fall River, Lawrence, Worcester, Holyoke, and Springfield.

The moderate-risk communities also include cities and towns near Springfield, including Longmeadow, Chicopee, Belchertown, Granby, and Northampton. Near Worcester, Charlton, Auburn, Marlborough, Maynard, Wrentham, and Framingham are on the list.  On the North Shore, communities such as Georgetown and Middleton show up.

Here is the list of red and yellow communities. The full list of red, yellow, green, and white communities and their rates can be found here.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Red

  1. Chelsea
  2. Lynn
  3. Revere
  4. Everett

Yellow

  1. Lawrence
  2. Saugus
  3. Holyoke
  4. Granby
  5. Wrentham
  6. Fall River
  7. Taunton
  8. Worcester
  9. Georgetown
  10. Salem
  11. Chicopee
  12. Peabody
  13. Brockton
  14. Charlton
  15. Randolph
  16. Belchertown
  17. Winthrop
  18. Northampton
  19. Maynard
  20. Malden
  21. Boston
  22. Quincy
  23. Hull
  24. Auburn
  25. Marlborough
  26. Springfield
  27. Framingham
  28. Middleton
  29. Longmeadow