State moves into high-risk COVID-19 territory

Red list of communities jumps to 63; Lawrence worrisome

THE STATE AS A WHOLE moved into the high-risk category for COVID-19 on Wednesday, a designation that reflects a steep run-up in cases in a growing but still relatively small group of communities across Massachusetts,

State officials use a number of metrics to determine how the state is doing during the pandemic, but the average case rate per 100,000 people during the previous two weeks has emerged as one of the bellwethers. It offers a way to measure COVID-19 spread by individual communities, ranking them as high risk (anything over 8 cases per 100,000), moderate risk (4 to 8 cases), or low risk, anything below 4.

The state as a whole has seen its case level rise dramatically over the last weeks, going from 5.7 two weeks ago to 7.3 one week ago to 8.7 on Wednesday. In late August, the state was at 4 cases per 100,000 people.

The much higher numbers reflect a sharp increase in cases in a relatively small number of communities. Wednesday’s report indicated 63 communities fell in the high-risk, or red, category, up 23 from last week and up 42 from the week before that. Another 88 communities received the yellow, or moderate risk, designation. That means the remaining 199 communities were low risk.

The most worrisome community on the list is Lawrence, which continues to see its case levels rising fast, hitting 41.9 on Wednesday. Only Middleton was higher at 105.2, but most of Middleton’s case count comes from a jail in the community, so the spread there is somewhat contained.

The others at the high end of the red list were Chelsea (30.9 cases per 100,000), Everett (25.2), Kingston (21.6), Revere (20.1), Marlborough (19.9), Framingham (17.8), Hudson (17.4), and Nantucket (17).

Bigger cities in the red zone include Boston (11.1), Worcester (11.5), Springfield (14.4), Lowell (16.4), New Bedford (12.2), and Brockton (11.9).

A fairly large group of communities are at the high end of the yellow, or moderate risk, category, and near the red zone. They include Wilbraham (7.9), Wrentham (7.6), Southbridge (7.6), Clinton (7.6), Mattapoisett (7.4), Northborough (7.3), Somerset (7.3), Millis (7.2), Paxton (7.2), Westborough (7.2), Salem (7.1), and Stoughton (7.0).

The high-risk designation comes with consequences, Communities that go red cannot move into Step 2 of Phase 3 of the Baker administration’s reopening plan until they land in one of the lower-risk categories for three consecutive reporting periods. Some communities have complained that their outbreaks have come from a jail, a college, or some isolated location, and therefore the high-risk designation is unfair.

Gov. Charlie Baker this week said he recognized that special circumstances exist in some cases, but he said he preferred to put out the data as is and let local communities digest it.

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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.

Baker on Tuesday also seemed to foreshadow the run-up in case rates on Wednesday when he and his top aides went to great length to say that they were prepared for what they said was an expected increase in COVID-19 this fall and winter.

Communities that fall into the riskiest category cannot proceed into Phase 3, Step 2 of the economic reopening the Baker administration outlined until they land in the grey, green or yellow for three consecutive reporting periods.