Massachusetts' latest weekly community-level data on the coronavirus pandemic, including the updated town-by-town COVID-19 risk assessment map, shows vast swaths of red as 121 communities are now considered at the highest risk for transmitting the virus, an increase of 44 from last week.
That means more than one-third of the state's 351 communities are in the map's red zone. Fifty-four communities joined the list this week while 10 moved out of it. And 15 communities that have consistently been in red will have to move back to Phase 3, Step 1 of the Massachusetts reopening plan.
This week's report from the Department of Public Health includes new data on COVID-19 clusters and the origins of new cases, showing nearly 3,000 new clusters have been identified since late September. Last week's report had been revamped to include data on isolated outbreaks, requiring its release to be moved back from Wednesdays to Thursdays.
The data, from the Department of Public Health, includes a breakdown of the total number of coronavirus cases in each Massachusetts city and town, as well as the new map and more data. See it here.
See the Town-by-Town Mass. Coronavirus Risk Map
The following communities are in the highest risk level as of Thursday: Abington, Acushnet, Agawam, Ashland, Athol, Attleboro, Avon, Bedford, Bellingham, Berkley, Beverly, Billerica, Blandford, Bolton, Boston , Boxford , Braintree, Bridgewater*, Brimfield, Brockton, Buckland, Canton , Chelmsford*, Chelsea , Chicopee, Clinton , Cohasset, Danvers, Dartmouth, Dedham , Dighton, Dover, Dracut, East Brdgewater, East Longmeadow, Everett, Fairhaven*, Fall River, Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Freetown, Gardner, Georgetown, Gloucester, Granby, Hanover, Hanson, Haverhill, Hingham, Holliston, Holyoke, Hubbardston, Hudson, Kingston*, Lakeville, Lawrence, Leicester, Leominster, Littleton, Lowell, Lynn, Lynnfield, Malden, Mansfield, Marlborough, Marshfield, Medford, Mendon, Methuen, Middleton, Milford, Nahant, Nantucket, New Bedford, Newburyport, North Andover*, North Attleborough, Northborough, Norton, Norwood, Palmer, Peabody, Pembroke, Plymouth, Randolph, Raynham, Revere, Rochester, Rockland, Salisbury, Saugus, Seekonk, Shrewsbury, Somerset*, Southborough, Springfield, Swansea, Taunton, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsborough, Wakefield, Waltham, Wareham, Webster, West Boylston, West Bridgewater, West Springfield, Westborough, Westfield, Westport, Westwood, Weymouth, Whitman, Wilmington, Winchester, Winthrop, Woburn, Worcester and Wrentham
The asterisks indicate that a local institution accounts for at least 11 cases in the community and those cases make up 30% or more of the community's total cases over the last two weeks.
Because they've been on the list for three consecutive weeks, the following communities must move to Step 1 of Phase 3 of Massachusetts' reopening plan starting Monday: Abington, Berkley, Canton, East Longmeadow, Fairhaven, Fall River, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Marshfield, Milford, Pembroke, Rockland, Wakefield, and Weymouth.
The map shows the number of cases detected on average each day over the last two weeks in each of Massachusetts' communities. More than 8 cases per 100,000 translates to a high risk and red shading, between 4 and 8 cases per 100,000 is moderate risk and any less than that is low risk.
There are 121 cities and towns shaded red in this map, an increase of 57% from last week's map. There were 77 communities on that map, which included data from Oct. 4-17, an increase of 14 communities from the week prior.
These 54 communities are new to the list since last week: Agawam, Athol, Bedford, Bellingham, Beverly, Billerica, Blandford, Bolton, Braintree,Bridgewater*, Brimfield, Cohasset , Danvers, Dartmouth, Dedham, Dighton, Dover, Dracut, East Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Foxborough, Freetown, Gardner, Georgetown, Granby, Hubbardston, Lakeville, Leominster, Littleton, Mansfield, Medford, Mendon, Nahant, Nantucket, Newburyport, North Attleborough, Northborough, Norton, Palmer, Peabody, Salisbury, Southborough, Swansea, Taunton, Tewksbury, Townsend, Wareham, West Boylston, West Springfield, Westborough, Westwood, Whitman, Wilmington and Winchester
And Amherst, Auburn, Dartmouth, East Bridgewater, Holbrook, Littleton, Nantucket, Southborough and Sunderland have left the highest risk level since last week.
Read this week's full report here, with data on communities' percent positivity, county- and state-level data and more.
New Data on Mass. COVID Clusters
This week, Gov. Charlie Baker said the latest report would include "more data around COVID clusters and where the new cases are coming from."
That data shows that 2,945 coronavirus clusters have been detected between Sept. 27 and Oct. 24. The vast majority have been associated with households and they've led to 8,208 confirmed cases.
The state defines clusters are at least two COVID-19 cases associated with one location, and it considers the information useful for learning where people are being infected.
Since Sept. 27, all but 238 of identified clusters were associated with households. Long-term care facilities have the next most clusters, 59.
Changes to Massachusetts' Hot Spot Map
Massachusetts has now changed how it's measured coronavirus metrics over time, and this month brought two significant revamp that may address some small communities' concerns.
Before this week's report added cluster information, last week's was the first to include coronavirus clusters in institutions like jails, colleges and nursing homes. Such outbreaks have pushed communities into that red zone before.
"Adding this identification acknowledges the impact of a particular institution or facility on the community’s case count and provides valuable information for residents and municipal leaders to consider when implementing policies in their community," the state's COVID-19 Response Command Center said in a statement at the time.
Having an asterisk won't change whether a city or and town can move forward or backward in Massachusetts' reopening plan or if more people can gather together, according to the command center. The asterisk doesn't change the red or yellow status.
The color-coded town-by-town data was introduced in August, and the Baker administration announced that the state would focus its strongest COVID-mitigation efforts on towns in the red category. Communities can only move to Step 2 of Phase 3 of Massachusetts' reopening plan, announced in late September, if they are not consistently in the red.
Before the map's introduction, the positive COVID test rate over the preceding 14 days had been the standard for measuring hot spots. The Department of Public Health's weekly report still includes that information, along with other metrics like how many tests are being conducted locally and how many cases have been reported locally.
However, some of Massachusetts' smaller towns have taken issue with being categorized based on cases per capita.
They have said that, when a town only has a few thousand people, an outbreak in just one household can send it into red, which is determined by 8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.
Asked earlier why he prefers using cases per capita instead of percent positivity, Baker said the latter doesn't take into account that some people get tested repeatedly.
"We have a lot of repeat testers in our data, many of whom are repeating for work-related reasons," Baker said.