Half of Massachusetts' 14 counties are now considered high risk for community transmission of COVID-19, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest data released Thursday shows that Barnstable, Berkshire, Franklin, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Worcester counties are all listed as high risk. Dukes, Essex, Hampden, Hampshire, Nantucket and Plymouth counties are medium risk, with only Bristol County remaining in the low risk category.
Just one week ago, no Massachusetts counties were listed as high risk. Seven were listed as medium risk and the rest were considered low risk.
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Massachusetts' COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, have declined since the omicron surge, but case counts and hospitalizations are starting to increase once again.
State health officials reported 4,376 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, more than 1,000 more than the daily total of 2,985 on Wednesday, along with 13 new deaths. The state's seven-day average positivity rate increased to 6.17% Thursday, compared to 5.79% on Wednesday. COVID cases have also been rising rapidly in Massachusetts schools in recent weeks.
COVID levels in wastewater, as reported by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's tracking system were slightly down at the start of last week in the Boston area, though it wasn't enough to convince top Boston doctors that we were clear from the spring surge. As of samples through Wednesday of this week, those levels were on the rise again.
What about the rest of New England?
In New Hampshire, Grafton County is designated as high risk, while Belknap, Carroll, Hillsborough, Rockingham, Strafford and Sullivan counties are medium risk. The state's other three counties are considered low risk.
In Vermont, all but two counties are considered high risk. Essex and Windham counties remain low risk.
Maine went from one high risk county to eight this week, including Aroostook, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Piscatiquis and Sagadahoc. Medium risk counties include Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford, Somerset, York, Waldo and Washington. Androscoggin County is the only one that remains low risk.
A week ago, all but one Connecticut county was low risk. But that has also changed dramatically. Now, Hartford, Middlesex and New Haven counties are categorized as high risk and the rest of the state is listed as medium risk.
All of Rhode Island jumped from low risk to medium risk since last week.
Residents in counties with a high level of community spread are urged to wear masks indoors in public and on public transportation, to stay up to date with vaccines and to get tested if they have symptoms, according to the CDC.
Residents in areas with a medium level of community spread are encouraged to wear a mask if they have symptoms, a positive test or exposure to someone with COVID-19. Anyone at high risk for severe illness should also consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions, the CDC says.
The majority of cases in New England right now are still being attributed to the "stealth" omicron variant BA.2, although cases of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant are on the rise. Increases in cases in South Africa and other countries are raising concerns that the U.S. could soon experience another COVID-19 wave.
Despite the rising cases here, Massachusetts and the other New England states have yet to take any steps to bring back mask mandates or any other COVID-related restrictions that were relaxed following January's omicron-fueled surge.