Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday identified four high risk Massachusetts cities and towns that will be the focus of his new COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team.
Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and Revere are included in the high risk category, meaning they have over eight cases per 100,000 residents. Twenty-nine other communities, including Auburn, Belchertown, Boston, Brockton, Charlton, Chicopee, Fall River, Framingham, Georgetown, Granby, Holyoke, Hull, Lawrence, Longmeadow, Malden, Marlborough, Maynard, Middleton, Northampton, Peabody, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Quincy, Randolph, Taunton, Winthrop Worcester, Wrentham, are in the moderate risk category, meaning they have between four and eight cases per 100,000.
While Massachusetts has seen an overall decrease in COVID-19 cases since May, there has been an uptick in some communities in recent weeks.
The state said it plans to offer these high and moderate risk municipalities assistance with testing, contact tracing and public awareness campaigns, Baker said. The effort is part of a new initiative to better inform residents about the spread of the coronavirus in their communities and the cities and towns where they work, shop or travel to on a regular basis so they can make informed decisions about precautions to limit infections.
Additional state support will include targeted intervention and inspections, enforcement, including fines, cease and desist orders for businesses and organizations in violation of COVID-19 orders and increased access to federal funds.
"People need to step up and be aware of the level of spread in each community, especially in your own area, and be vigilant," the governor said.
The administration said it will begin publishing weekly data showing town-by-town infections rates and assigning every community a color based on the level of infection and spread detected by testing.
The other 318 cities and towns in the state fall into the green (fewer than four cases per 100,000) or white (fewer than five cases in the past 14 days) categories and are considered lower risk.
"Regardless of where your community sits, COVID is not going away," Baker said. "Your actions, no matter where you live or work, will determine in many respects whether and how this virus spreads."
Baker said parks, playgrounds and some businesses could be restricted or shut down in moderate- or high-risk communities if they have been shown to be contributors to higher infection rates. Local officials in trouble spots, Baker said, identified social gatherings without masks as their biggest challenge this summer.
"Over and over again what these folks said is there are too many informal gatherings, too many people at them and nobody's wearing face coverings," the governor said. "The idea is not to issue fines. We want to make sure they're abiding by the gathering rules and will be sending people home if they're not... No one's looking to arrest people and write citations unless people literally refuse to play by the rules."
The three-day average number of patients actively hospitalized for the virus has hovered between 375 and 396 since last week. Meanwhile, the positive test rate for COVID-19 dropped back below 2 percent, holding at 1.8 percent or 1.9 percent from Thursday through Sunday in the most recent data available, after climbing slowly to 2.2 percent in late July.
That increase was one of the factors Baker cited last week, when he announced that Massachusetts will not move into the second stage of the gradual reopening plan's third phase for the foreseeable future and when he slashed the allowable outdoor gathering limit from 100 to 50.
State House News Service contributed to this report.