New Massachusetts COVID Hot Spots, Travel Order: What to Know

The number of high-risk cities and towns rose from 63 to 81 and Vermont was removed from the list of low-risk states over the holiday weekend

People wait for their baggage at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston
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Massachusetts released the latest community-level COVID-19 data over the holiday weekend, which showed that 81 cities and towns are now at high risk for the virus, up from 63 in the previous week.

The state also removed Vermont from the list of low-risk states, leaving Hawaii as the only state where visitors won't be required to quarantine for 14 days or else test out of the quarantine restrictions.

Massachusetts also reported almost 10,000 new coronavirus cases over the 4-day weekend as the state continues to weather the second surge.

Here's everything you need to know about the latest COVID-19 developments in Massachusetts:

81 Mass. communities now at high risk for COVID-19

The good news in the latest batch of community-level COVID-19 data is that the number of cities and towns in the top risk category did not roughly double for a third consecutive week. The bad news is that the count still increased, with the addition of many suburban and rural areas, and nearly a quarter of Massachusetts communities landed in the red.

Eighty-one municipalities fell into the state's highest danger level for the highly infectious virus in a Department of Public Health report published Friday, an increase from the 63 in last week's version. Those cities and towns are color-coded red in DPH's system, and are the only communities that the Baker administration believes could deploy hybrid rather than fully in-person education models. They could also be forced to move one stage backwards in economic reopening, cutting into some allowable business capacities.

Twenty-five communities are new to the red category compared to last week: Bellingham, Berkley, Boxford, Chelmsford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Georgetown, Haverhill, Hopedale, Leicester, Lenox, Littleton, Mendon, Merrimac, Middleton, Millbury, Monsoon, Oak Bluffs, Paxton, Rutland, Upton, Wenham, West Boylston, Westminster and Whitman. The rest of the cities and towns in the red have been at that level since at least last week.

Six others -- Abington, Acushnet, Nantucket, Northbridge, Rockland and Townsend -- that were in the highest risk level last week dropped down to lower designations in the latest report.

At the end of October, when the Baker administration still measured risk levels based solely on average new cases per 100,000 residents, 121 communities were in the red.

Officials changed the metrics starting in November, pushing up the cases per 100,000 rate to land in the red and adding positive test rate and population as factors. That switch cut the number of highest-risk communities to just 16 in the first report under the new system.

With so many families gathering and traveling for Thanksgiving, despite warnings from the CDC, experts expect a rush on coronavirus testing. Dr. Shira Doron, of Tufts Medical Center, shares what to expect for those getting COVID-19 tests after the holiday.

Vermont removed from list of low-risk states in updated travel order

Massachusetts is now requiring people arriving in the state from Vermont to quarantine for two weeks.

The Department of Public Health announced the addition to the list of high-risk states on Friday as coronavirus cases continue to surge nationwide.

The change went into effect on Saturday, Nov. 28.

To be included on Massachusetts' list of low-risk states for travel, a state must have fewer than 10 average daily cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate below 5%, both measured as a 7-day rolling average.

Massachusetts residents are urged to limit any out-of-state travel to states designated as COVID-19 lower-risk states; Hawaii is now the only remaining state that Massachusetts considers low-enough risk for quarantine-free travel.

Travelers from states that aren't on the low-risk list must fill out the Massachusetts Travel Form and quarantine for 14 days, according to state guidelines. That includes anyone who's coming from a low-risk state but stayed for more than a transitory period of time in the last 14 days in a higher-risk state.

State guidelines say travelers do not need to quarantine for 14 days if they took a test for COVID-19 and have already received a negative result. The test must have been taken no longer than 72 hours before someone's arrival in Massachusetts, and it must be by a method approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

There are some exemptions, however, including for people who regularly commute to a higher-risk state to attend school or work.

Click here to see the full order, including exemptions.

Starting Saturday, Massachusetts will start requiring that people arriving in the state from Vermont stay in quarantine for two weeks, the Department of Public Health announced Friday. The DPH also announced nearly 4,500 new cases of the virus.

Nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases over Thanksgiving holiday

The number of patients in Massachusetts hospitals with COVID-19 rose by about 140 over the Thanksgiving holiday, and state officials reported nearly 10,000 new cases of the highly infectious virus over the past four days.

The Department of Public Health reported the new cases from a total of 240,696 tests in data reports covering four days and released on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In Sunday's report, the seven-day average positive test rate rose to 3.8%, its highest point amid the second surge that has been underway this fall. Friday's DPH report included 4,464 new cases, though it covered a longer timeframe -- parts of Wednesday and Friday plus all of Thursday -- than most daily updates.

On Sunday, DPH counted 1,081 confirmed COVID-19 cases among hospitalized patients, an increase of 139 from Wednesday's report.

Elected officials warned for weeks that Thanksgiving travel could accelerate COVID-19 spread, and the latest data indicate that infections were still on the rise even before the holiday impacts are known.

Officials also reported 115 newly confirmed deaths in data reports over the long weekend, pushing the cumulative confirmed death toll in Massachusetts to 10,487 since the pandemic began.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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