Coronavirus

Boston's New COVID Variant Guidance: When Should You Wear a Mask?

With COVID cases and wastewater data increasing, Boston city officials issued a new warning on Friday

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Boston issued a new COVID warning on Friday as cases continue to increase, including new mask guidance.

Over the past seven days, new COVID cases have increased by 38.9%. These new infections are driving up the city's positivity rate, which stands at just over 10%. There have also been about 151 people in the hospital with COVID each day over the past seven days. Instances of severe illness, however, remain low.

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Still, the elevated numbers led Boston health officials to issue the new warning.

They're once again urging people to start wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces and are telling people to gather outside and choose outdoor events if possible. An example of an indoor crowded space is public transportation.

The BA.5 subvariant makes up 60% of New England's COVID-19 infections.

COVID cases rising across Massachusetts

Right now, the COVID positivity rate in Boston is more than double the threshold of concern -- it's 10.1%. The threshold for when people should be taking precautions is 5%, and the goal is 4% or lower.

Daily hospitalizations are up 25% and the amount of coronavirus in local wastewater is up 21% in the past week.

Two weeks ago, the CDC also elevated Suffolk County, which includes Boston, to medium community risk for COVID-19. It remained in the medium risk category last week as well.

The city attributes the increase in its COVID metrics to the emergence of the highly-infectious BA.5 variant, which now accounts for most cases in Massachusetts. Increased social activity and travel during the July 4th holiday weekend are also believed to be contributing factors.

Data released on Friday from the Boston Public Health Commission shows COVID-19 cases are rising.

“Cases are increasing, as are hospitalizations. We are following our citywide trends closely, and we suggest that everyone follow recommended precautions to reduce risk,” Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said in a statement posted to the city's website. “Based on current trends, it is essential that people protect themselves and others by wearing masks within indoor crowded settings, testing, isolating if they’re sick, and staying up to date with their vaccinations, which will reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19."

Boston's new mask guidance

The Boston Public Health Commission is recommending the following strategies to prevent COVID transmission:

  • Test for COVID before and after attending large gatherings, especially if you know you will be around high-risk individuals, such as seniors, those who are immunocompromised, and those who are unvaccinated.
  • Wear masks indoors, especially in crowded indoor settings like public transportation.
  • Stay home and isolate if you are sick or test positive for COVID. If you test positive, be sure to contact a health care provider about oral antivirals or monoclonal antibody therapy.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is offering free telehealth services for Paxlovid, and oral antiviral that has been proven to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID significantly.
  • Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations, which are now recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
  • Gather outside and choose outdoor activities as often as possible.

More information about COVID-19 vaccines and testing is available at boston.gov/bphc. Residents can also call the Mayor's Health Line at 617-534-5050 or go to https://www.boston.gov/bphc-mhl.

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