Cases and deaths from COVID-19 are expected to rise in many states, including Massachusetts, as the nation struggles to grapple with the highly contagious delta variant, according to multiple modeling projections.
Two disease models, one from the University of Washington and another from a team of Massachusetts scientists, predict a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the fall, The Boston Globe reports.
These predictions come as students, including children for whom the COVID vaccine has not yet been approved, return to in-person learning. Though some schools have implemented mask mandates, the piecemeal approach to public health may be a driver of increased cases.
Experts say vaccinations and mask-wearing are two major factors that could turn the tide on the current projections.
Adopting universal mask mandates now could avoid roughly 1,300 deaths in Massachusetts by Dec. 1 and 50,000 deaths nationwide, Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metric science at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told the Globe.
Boston Mayor Kim Janey recently announced an indoor mask mandate, which takes effect Friday, following similar moves by surrounding cities including Somerville, Brookline, and Cambridge.
"The delta variant has emerged as the dominant strain of COVID-19 across our country, including here in Boston," Janey said. "The delta variant spreads faster and it's easier to catch. As a result, we have seen public health metrics trend up over the past several weeks."
She also introduced other measures, including a commitment to equitable vaccine and booster access for everyone; a previously announced vaccine mandate for city workers; $30 million to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning in Boston Public School buildings over the coming year; and a mask mandate for schools and city buildings.
The new mask mandate will mean the city of Boston has more stringent mask rules than the state -- Gov. Charlie Baker hasn't issued his own mask mandate.
Asked about Janey's move at a news conference Friday, Baker said he had no problem with any city or town adding their own restrictions -- "we've always said that that's OK" -- and stressed that different parts of the state have different needs, just as the state, the second-most vaccinated nationwide, has different needs from others, where cases are flaring up more intensely.
Massachusetts health officials reported another 1,459 confirmed coronavirus cases -- the most in one day since mid-April -- and six new deaths on Friday. New data covering the weekend is scheduled to be released on Monday afternoon.
Friday's report pushed the state's number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 694,552 since the start of the pandemic and its death toll to 17,805. The last time at least 1,459 COVID cases were reported in one day was April 17.
Massachusetts' COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, are far lower than they were several months ago, though some have been rising in recent weeks. While breakthrough cases are being reported, officials say most new cases, and especially serious infections, are in the unvaccinated.
Massachusetts' seven-day average of positive tests ticked up to 2.81% on Friday. It was once above 30%, but had dropped under 0.5% until the delta variant began surging in the state.