Massachusetts is a coronavirus ‘hotspot state’: 63 communities in the red zone

Massachusetts is facing “worrisome” coronavirus trends, infectious diseases experts tell the Herald, as cases continue to creep up and a record number of communities land on the state’s coronavirus high-risk “red zone” list.

“We’re a hotspot state now,” Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, said Thursday.

The statewide average daily case rate over the last two weeks would put the Bay State into its own high-risk “red zone,” according to the state’s Department of Public Health metrics. That is based on 8,443 statewide cases in the last 14 days, or 8.7 per 100,000 residents.

The rising cases across Massachusetts has resulted in a record 63 cities and towns in the red zone, a jump from 40 communities last week and 23 the week prior.

“It’s definitely worrisome,” said Boston University infectious diseases specialist Davidson Hamer. “If we keep having continued growth in the wrong direction, we may have to pull back” with reopening.

Public schools in Lowell will shift to fully remote learning next week after the city landed on the high-risk list for the third week in a row. Door-to-door trick-or-treating for Halloween was also canceled as the city works to curb what officials called a “significant increase in new cases of COVID-19 among residents.”

The South Shore emerged as a hot zone this week as Abington, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Holbrook, Marshfield, Milton, Pembroke, Rockland and Weymouth joined Plymouth, Randolph and Kingston in the red.

Hingham town administrators blamed a “troubling increase” in COVID-19 cases among privately run sports teams. The health department has quarantined teams as well as family members and some spectators who were not social distancing.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said he was “not surprised” to see his city tick into the red for the first time this week given how the metro Boston area has “consistently shown higher numbers of positive cases” and the general “erosion of compliance” with mask wearing and social distancing.

“We’re seeing what scientists and experts have consistently warned about — the potential for outbreaks in the fall and eventually the winter as activities shift from outdoors to indoors,” Curtatone said.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said Wednesday the entire state will not pause in reopening despite falling into the high-risk category that stops cities and towns from moving into step two of Phase 3.

But “if things continue the way they are, the governor and his team will have to put in more stringent measures,” such as closing businesses where people congregate, Ellerin, of South Shore Health, said.

“All of these things are on the table,” Ellerin said. “No one wants to do that, but clearly we cannot keep continuing at this rate.”

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