CommonWealth’s 10 most-read news stories of 2021

As COVID-19 continued to dominate society in 2021, a story about the virus also topped CommonWealth’s most-read stories of the year.

In early September, as the Delta variant was causing COVID cases to rise, companies were struggling to manufacture enough at-home rapid tests to meet the demand. CommonWealth’s most-read story in 2021 looked at the difficulty pharmacies were having keeping rapid COVID tests in stock. The story also raised questions – still relevant today – about the accuracy of state case counts, since people testing positive at home would not necessarily report the result to public health authorities.

COVID was also a theme in several other top-read stories, including one about seven state representatives failing to comply with the House of Representatives’ COVID vaccine mandate and another about Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement of the state’s target date of August 1 for full economic reopening.

Indirectly, COVID contributed to the decisions of eight Massachusetts mayors not to run for reelection. The death of autistic teenager David Almond raised questions about how COVID impacted the Department of Children and Families’ ability to care for vulnerable children.

In descending order, here are the top ten most-read stories on CommonWealth’s website this year.

  1. Unpaid $3,056 tax bill may cost Oxford man his $254,000 home

By Shira Schoenberg, October 17, 2021

The case of elderly Oxford resident John Smith spotlights the questionable fairness of a state law that allows municipalities to seize a property – and take its full value – for nonpayment of taxes. A legal challenge raised concerns about whether homeowners are adequately notified when this happens. 

  1. Death of Fall River boy puts DCF in spotlight again

By Shira Schoenberg, November 18, 2020

David Almond, a 14-year-old autistic boy, dies allegedly due to abuse and neglect by his father and father’s girlfriend. The Department of Children and Families was overseeing David’s care and he was enrolled in Fall River public schools, leading to questions about potential pandemic-related gaps in the state systems tasked with protecting children.

  1. Rollins received severance agreement from Massport

By Colman Herman, contributing writer, August 1, 2021

Rachael Rollins, who has since been confirmed as US Attorney for Massachusetts, left Massport with a $175,000 severance agreement plus a $45,000 educational benefit.

  1. Nearly a fifth of state’s mayors are stepping down

By Bruce Mohl, March 18, 2021

Eight Massachusetts mayors announced plans to step down this year, whether to take new jobs or simply not to run for reelection. Many cited the challenges of managing the COVID pandemic as a key factor in their decision to leave office.

  1. Massachusetts will fully reopen on August 1

By Shira Schoenberg, April 27, 2021

Gov. Baker announces that Massachusetts will lift its outdoor mask mandate within days and the state will plan to fully reopen, with almost no remaining restrictions on businesses, on August 1.

  1. Convicted murder Raymond Gaines freed after 46 years amid new evidence

By Shira Schoenberg, April 28, 2021

A Suffolk Superior Court judge ordered Gaines’s release after new evidence raised questions about his guilt, and about potential misconduct by the Boston police who investigated the case.  

  1. Seven reps not complying with House vaccine mandate

By Shira Schoenberg, November 3, 2021

There were seven state representatives who had not yet provided proof of vaccination or requested a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine mandate imposed by the House of the Representatives, as the mandate went into effect for those who chose to work at the State House. 

  1. Harsh judgement from some parents for Probate Judge

By Shira Schoenberg, May 9, 2021

A legislative petition seeks to remove Essex Probate and Family Court Judge Abbe Ross from the bench, in response to complaints of bias by a number of unhappy litigants.

  1. Lt. Gov. Polito buys $1.8m beach house

By Shira Schoenberg, March 19, 2021

Polito and her husband Stephen Rodolakis joined the trend of those buying second homes during the pandemic. The couple paid $1.795 million for a 4,800-square-foot house located not far from the water on Ricketson’s Point in Dartmouth.

  1.     At-home COVID tests surging in popularity

By Shira Schoenberg, September 6, 2021

As COVID-19 rates rose again amid a surge in Delta variant cases, people flocked to buy at-home, rapid COVID tests. The high demand nationwide created a shortage of tests, and their availability posed new questions about the accuracy of state COVID case counts.  




Tip system under fire: State lawmakers are being urged to do away with the minimum wage for tipped employees, which has its roots in slave labor, and put all restaurant workers on the standard minimum wage. Supporters of the idea say the tip system creates an unhealthy power dynamic in the workplace that leads to racial and sexual harassment. Read more.

Bodycam deadline missed: A state body camera commission, slow to form, misses an interim deadline and is now hoping to issue standards for police procurement of the devices by next July. Read more.


Overselling compassionate medicine: Joel Neiditz thinks Douglas Brown of UMass Memorial Healthcare is overselling “compassionate medicine,” and says compassion provided by work colleagues is hardly a revelation. Read more.




The town of Wenham’s insurance companies pays a $70,000 settlement to a secretary to settle a sexual harassment claim involving a former selectman. (Salem News)

An estimated 2,300 city of Boston employees and contractors are currently out of compliance with Mayor Michelle Wu’s vaccine mandate and face termination. (GBH) The president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association said the union has a meeting scheduled with city officials for next week to discuss the new vaccine mandate. (Boston Herald)   

More pandemic fallout: A shortage in some towns of snowplow drivers. (Boston Globe

Worcester will now require all municipal employees to get COVID booster shots. It is also reimposing capacity limits on municipal buildings. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Baker administration signs contracts with several rapid COVID test manufacturers, which will let cities and towns bulk buy the tests more cheaply in order to distribute them to residents. (MassLive


Hospital officials say COVID vaccines are making a big difference in the severity of illness they are seeing. (Salem News) Few children are getting very sick from Omicron. (Boston Globe

Elder care facilities are particularly worried about the Omicron surge, and the potential loss of staff if caregivers get sick. (Patriot Ledger)

Massachusetts reported a record 15,163 new COVID cases on Wednesday. (MassLive)


British socialite Ghislane Maxwell is convicted on five of six charges related to facilitating abuse of underage girls by financier Jeffrey Epstein. (NPR)


Samsung is reportedly in talks to acquire Cambridge-based biotech company Biogen. (Boston Globe

Three friends have opened a boutique sneaker store in Randolph whose name honors a friend killed nine years ago. (The Enterprise


The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it will distribute 200,000 rapid antigen tests to school districts for teachers and staff to use before returning to school after winter break. (MassLive)


State officials almost always deny prisoner grievances alleging abuse, with just 9 of 1,500 inmate complaints at six large prisons from 2018 to 2021 fully corroborated. (Boston Globe