Massachusetts municipal leaders call on Charlie Baker to consider regional reopenings as coronavirus cases rise

As Somerville ticked into the state’s high-risk red zone for coronavirus transmission for the first time this week, neighboring Arlington remained a low-risk green.

But Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine doesn’t consider his community immune to what’s going on next door.

“We don’t live in communities with walls around them,” Chapdelaine said. “We all lay our heads somewhere at night, but we either work or visit other communities all the time.”

Chapdelaine is one of several municipal leaders across eastern Massachusetts renewing their calls for Gov. Charlie Baker to consider a more regional approach to both economic reopenings and public health efforts as they continue to combat a virus that knows no borders — and that’s now on the rise once more.

In Massachusetts, “there are virtually 351 different approaches to the pandemic,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone told the Herald this week. “What we’ve been clamoring for is a regional approach — a sharing and understanding of indicators that would help us in our decision points to see whether we should open up or roll back.”

The virus’s creep across town lines is easily visible in the color-coded risk maps put out each week by the Department of Public Health. This week, a cluster of South Shore towns were among the record 63 cities and towns that landed on the state’s high-risk list. Earlier this month, an entire group of Merrimack Valley cities and towns moved into the red.

“If we have a plan, and it’s a regional plan, and we can understand the variables, the indicators, the threshold points for decision-making, we can act strategically to contain any large community spread or any outbreak instead of having to undertake massive rollbacks to our economy across the board,” Curtatone said.

Baker, who’s made clear the coronavirus “doesn’t care about boundaries,” has at the same time repeatedly defended his administration’s use of town-by-town metrics to help communities form individualized plans of attack against the virus through testing, enforcement and awareness.

“Communities are encouraged to analyze several weeks of data to understand where infections are coming from and to assist in making the best decisions for their residents,” Baker administration spokeswoman Sarah Finlaw said in an email Saturday. “Some municipalities have chosen not to advance to the next stage of re-opening, and the administration will continue to support cities and towns during their reopening process.”

The state has provided significant support to a cluster of North Shore communities — Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and Revere — that have long been hot spots for the virus in Massachusetts and where leaders who have worked across city lines for months to coordinate public health responses have long called for more regionalized efforts.

“The reality is that all these communities are very close, they’re interacting. People are living in Lynn but working in Chelsea, Revere, Boston, Everett,” Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee said. “For several months it’s been focused on community-by-community. But the reality is in a particular region, the impacts are shared.”

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer pointed to the regional approaches used in New York and Pennsylvania as a possible model for Massachusetts both in economic reopening and in a sharing of health resources. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke the Empire State into 10 regions including multiple counties each, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf went county-by-county for his state’s reopening.

“There are people who don’t live in Framingham but they travel here for work every day. The protocols may be different in the community they live in. It could be very confusing,” Spicer said. “It behooves us to realize that we are a very transient society and that a regional approach could work better in our favor.”

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