Doctor: ‘We Should be Concerned' About Rising COVID Cases in Mass.

“It matters that there’s a cluster anywhere because clusters are an opportunity for the disease to spread," said Dr. David Rosman

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Physicians are voicing concerns about the rising number of cases in Massachusetts as 77 cities and towns are deemed high-risk for spreading coronavirus.

Fourteen communities were added Thursday to the state's list of cities and towns considered at the highest risk for transmitting COVID-19, according to the latest weekly community-level data on the pandemic.

"We should be concerned. These are not good data to see," Dr. Joshua Barocas said. "It’s not a blip. We can sort of definitively say now that we are on a very steep trend upward in cases.”

Last week, Massachusetts climbed into the highest risk level, judging by the statewide average of all communities. Barocas, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University, believes that COVID fatigue is partly to blame for the recent uptick.

The 77 cities and towns, now shaded red in the town-by-town risk assessment map, indicate a 22% increase from last week. There were 63 communities on that map, which included data from Sept. 27-Oct. 10, an increase of 23 communities from the week prior.

Mass. COVID hot spot map
Mass. Dept. of Public Health
This map shows the average daily number of coronavirus cases per capita in Massachusetts from Oct. 4-17, 2020. Asterisk indicate communities where an outbreak at an institution accounts for a significant portion of cases.

This week's report from the Department of Public Health was revamped to include data on isolated outbreaks for the first time. The updated report shows coronavirus clusters in institutions like jails, colleges and nursing homes, which have pushed communities into that red zone before.

“It matters that there’s a cluster anywhere because clusters are an opportunity for the disease to spread," said Dr. David Rosman, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Rosman added that just because there’s an outbreak on a college campus, for example, doesn’t mean the rest of the community is in the clear.

“Young adults in a college setting can go to the local store, go to the local restaurant, and so their presence in a town counts, it actually does matter, because nobody ties them to their campus," Rosman said.

Massachusetts now has 77 communities where there's a high risk of transmitting COVID-19. That's 14 more communities than were listed in last week's coronavirus risk map.

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.

But Dr. Vibha Sharma, who specializes in infectious diseases at UMass Memorial Marlborough Hospital, said, “even if it’s a cluster, it could be exposing other people in that same town."

Read this week's full report here, with data on communities' percent positivity, county- and state-level data and more.

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