Most Massachusetts Communities Handling Coronavirus Well and Schools Should Re-Open There, Governor Says

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The vast majority of Massachusetts cities and towns have fewer than five confirmed cases of coronavirus, state officials said Tuesday.

Two hundred forty-three of the 351 cities and towns have fewer than five cases. Another 75 have fewer than 4 cases per 100,000, a benchmark used nationally to measure level of concern.

State health officials identified four high-risk cities north of Boston – Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, and Revere – where there are more than 8 confirmed cases per 100,000 people.

Twenty-nine other municipalities have been identified as at moderate risk, defined as between 4 and 8 cases per 100,000 people.

State officials released a map Tuesday, August 11 showing towns and cities in Massachusetts by color, with red for the four high-risk cities, yellow for those of moderate risk, green for those of low risk, and white for those with fewer than five cases total.

The map shows most of the state is doing well.

“The good news here should not get lost:  318 communities here in Massachusetts are at or below national benchmarks when it comes to containing Covid in their communities,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said during his coronavirus press conference Tuesday, August 11.

Even higher-risk communities are showing improvement, Baker said.

“Lawrence and Chelsea are both interesting examples of this. I mean, Chelsea is red, Lawrence is yellow, but both of ‘em are way down from where they were a couple of months ago. We just have to continue the progress,” Baker said.

Statewide, 8,529 people have been confirmed to have died from coronavirus as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, August 11, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. That’s out of 112,969 confirmed cases, including 296 newly reported confirmed cases today. Ten deaths from coronavirus were confirmed today.

The statewide trends remain positive or neutral, not negative, according to the state.

While many local school committees are opting not to open public schools for in-person classes, the governor said the vast majority of communities in the state should open for school.

“We would certainly hope that based on this data, if you’re in a green or a white community, I can’t imagine a good reason not to go back, whether it’s full time or in some sort of a hybrid. Because for all intents and purposes, you meet all the benchmarks that are being used across the country, and across New England, to make decisions about whether it’s safe to go back to school,” Baker said.

He said “contextually, those communities are in a perfectly appropriate place to have kids back.”

He noted that children remain a low-risk group for the virus.

“For the most part, cases among kids, especially young kids, remain extremely rare,” Baker said.

People in the handful of high-risk communities ought to take extraordinary precautions to avoid spreading the virus, said Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services.

“Currently, there are four communities at the highest risk – Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, and Revere. To residents in these communities, we have simple messages:  There is an extremely high level of Covid in your community. Respect the virus and stay vigilant. Masks work. Wear a face covering at all times when outside of your home. Don’t spread this virus to your family. Stay six feet apart at all times, inside and outside. The Covid pandemic is not over. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are ill, and call your doctor. Please don’t share food, drink, or utensils with anyone,” Sudders said.

Despite the good news on most fronts, the governor has increased restrictions on gatherings, issuing a new executive order Friday, August 7 that takes effect Tuesday, August 11.

Baker has decreased the number of people allowed to congregate in outdoor groups – from 100 previously to 50 now. Authorized indoor gatherings of people not living in the same household are now limited to 10 – although the new restriction does not affect religious gatherings, which are still operating under the limits of 40 percent of building capacity, masks, and six-foot social distancing.

State and local police are authorized to enforce the new restrictions. They can issue a $500 fine for each violation, according to the order.

A July 12 house party in Chatham that was later tied to more than a dozen new cases of coronavirus and several dozen exposures to the virus has frustrated state officials, who say they are also hearing from town and city government officials about other summertime parties continuing despite the public health situation.

Baker said local officials’ concerns prompted the new rules.

“Part of the reason for changing the rules was one of the things we heard from local communities is, ‘There’s not a lot I can do in my community with private gatherings. But I do think private gatherings are a problem.’ So, if one of the things that comes out of this is a local community says to us, ‘We would like your help, in just responding to complaints that we get about large gatherings in our community,’ we want to be able to help them do that,” Baker said.

He continued:

“But the goal there would be to get people to either put on a mask, socially distance – you know, abide by the rules, play by the rules. That would be goal number one here. No one’s looking to, like, arrest people and write citations, unless people literally refuse to play by the rules associated with the orders.”