More than 80,000 people in Massachusetts have now been infected with the novel coronavirus, health officials said Wednesday, reporting another 174 deaths.
The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 80,497, after rising by 1,165 Wednesday, and the death toll is at 5,315, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
It comes a day after the department reported just 33 coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts, the lowest number since the surge, though that's due in part to late reporting on Monday that included some deaths that would otherwise have been in Tuesday's report. Still, the Monday and Tuesday together averaged just 81 deaths a day, about half the numbers that were seen during the surge in mid-April.
However, leaders and health officials have encouraged the public not to draw long-term conclusions from one or two days' worth of data, and the increase in deaths on Wednesday was a return to the levels that were reported during the surge.
Officials have cautioned that the recovery will last long after the virus stops spreading very fast. Among them has been Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who announced Wednesday that his city had reported no new coronavirus deaths the day before.
"A day with no deaths to report is certainly a good day but we still have work to do if we want to see that every day," Walsh said.
As the daily numbers have declined, indicating that the worst of the pandemic may be over for now, speculation has turned to when and how Massachusetts can safely reopen. But Gov. Charlie Baker remained tight-lipped Wednesday about what businesses will be able to return to work on May 18, when phase 1 of his plan is set to begin.
Massachusetts has for weeks been one of the epicenters of COVID-19 in the U.S., with the fourth-most cases -- surpassed this week by Illinois, which his now experiencing its surge -- and fatalities among all states.
Baker and other health officials have said Massachusetts' high tallies may be due the state testing among the most residents per capita in the country -- more than 400,000 tests were conducted as of Tuesday, according to the Department of Public Health.
Despite the high number of daily deaths, Wednesday's report continued to offer more steady progress on four metrics that Baker has identified as crucial.
Fourteen percent of all 8,536 tests returned Wednesday were positive, according to the Department of Health, slightly higher than the last week's rate but much lower than during the coronavirus surge in mid-to-late April. The hospitalization rate remained at 4% and the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital dropped by 26 while the number in intensive care units dropped by 24.
Middlesex County remains the Massachusetts county with the most deaths, 1,282, but it doesn't have the highest death rate. That's Hampden County, which has seen 100 deaths per 100,000 residents. It's followed by Norfolk (95 per 100,000), Suffolk (92 per 100,000) and Essex (88 per 100,000) counties.
Middlesex County also continues to have the most coronavirus cases, with 18,201, followed by Suffolk at 15,587, Essex at 11,703 and Worcester at 8,241. But Suffolk County leads the way in terms of cases per capita, with 1,919 cases per 100,000 residents. No other county has more than 1,491 cases per 100,000.