The coronavirus surge is here. Cases are spiking, Massachusetts reported 16 more high-risk cities and towns on Thursday and a new field hospital is set to open in Worcester this weekend. And Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is warning that another shutdown might be necessary if hospitalizations continue to rise.
Here's everything we know about the latest coronavirus developments in Massachusetts over the past 24 hours:
Massachusetts reports its highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day
For a second consecutive day on Thursday, Massachusetts health officials announced a record number of new COVID-19 cases.
The Department of Public Health on Thursday announced 6,477 new coronavirus cases, a single-day high since the start of the pandemic. The department noted that its announcement was delayed due to a single laboratory reporting 680 cases prior to Dec. 1.
Even without those 680 cases, however, there were far more than the 4,613 new cases confirmed Wednesday, which broke the previous record.
Massachusetts also reported 49 more coronavirus deaths.
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There have now been 10,637 confirmed deaths and 232,264 cases, according to the DPH. Another 237 deaths are considered probably linked to COVID-19.
The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, on average, has increased to 5.29%, according to the report.
Red towns increase by 20%
There are now 97 communities considered at the highest risk for transmitting the new coronavirus in Massachusetts, according to the latest weekly community-level data on the pandemic.
It's an increase of 16, or nearly 20%, from the 81 towns and cities in the report's red zone last week -- the numbers have steadily been increasing for weeks. (See this week's full red zone list below.)
Seventeen communities will have to move back to Phase 3, Step 1 of Massachusetts reopening plan, based on the data in this week's report.
The following 97 communities are in the highest risk level as of Thursday: Abington, Acushnet, Attleboro, Barnstable, Bellingham, Berkley, Billerica, Blackstone, Boxford, Brockton, Charlton, Chelmsford, Chelsea, Chicopee, Clinton, Dartmouth, Dighton, Douglas, Dracut, Edgartown, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Freetown, Gardner, Georgetown, Granby, Hampden, Hanover, Haverhill, Holden, Holyoke, Hopedale, Hudson, Lancaster, Lawrence, Leicester, Lenox, Leominster, Littleton, Lowell, Ludlow, Lunenburg, Lynn, Malden, Marion, Mendon, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleton, Milford, Millbury, Monson, New Bedford, Newbury, Norfolk, North Attleborough, North Brookfield, Palmer, Paxton, Peabody, Pittsfield, Plainville, Randolph, Rehoboth, Revere, Rutland, Salisbury, Saugus, Seekonk, Shirley, Somerset, Southborough, Southbridge, Southwick, Spencer, Springfield, Sterling, Stoneham, Stoughton, Sturbridge, Sutton, Swansea, Taunton, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Upton, Uxbridge, Wareham, Wenham, West Boylston, West Springfield, Westport, Whitman, Wilmington and Woburn.
Of those communities, 23 are newly in red on the list: Abington, Acushnet, Billerica, Charlton, Granby, Hanover, Holden, Hudson, Newbury, North Attleborough, North Brookfield, Palmer, Pittsfield, Plainville, Randolph, Southborough, Spencer, Stoneham, Stoughton, Sturbridge, Tewksbury, Wareham and Wilmington.
Seven communities dropped out of red on the list: East Longmeadow, Fairhaven, Oak Bluffs, Templeton, Tisbury, Westminster, Winchendon.
Seventeen communities have been consistently in the red zone long enough to have to move back to Phase 3, Step 1 of Massachusetts' reopening plan on Monday, according to the state's updated list: Barnstable, Blackstone, Dartmouth, Douglas, Edgartown, Hampden, Lancaster, Ludlow, Lunenburg, Peabody, Rehoboth, Salisbury, Southbridge, Southwick, Sterling, Sutton and Taunton. It means a series of new restrictions for businesses in those communities.
Field hospital opens Sunday in Worcester
Hoping to avoid the same kind of pressure that stretched the state's health care system thin in the spring, Gov. Charlie Baker's administration is working to get field hospitals up and running again around the state amid a second deluge of coronavirus activity that is showing no signs of receding.
After touring the field hospital that the National Guard is establishing at the DCU Center in Worcester, Baker said Thursday that the COVID-19 situation is different from the springtime surge -- a smaller percentage of people who test positive require hospitalization, hospitals are moving ahead with many of the non-COVID-related procedures that were canceled in the spring and hospital beds have filled at a slower rate this fall -- but that having extra hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients remains necessary.
"Field hospitals play a critical role in our preparedness strategy that helps us alleviate pressure on the health care system generally and enables hospitals to focus on non-COVID patients," Baker said.
The Worcester field hospital is expected to begin accepting patients Sunday. Baker also announced he will have more to say soon about plans to establish a field hospital in Lowell in conjunction with Lowell General Hospital. Talks are also underway to determine if or where to open a field hospital in the southeastern part of the state, a top Baker deputy said Thursday.
Including all hospital patients, 73 percent of the 11,000 non-ICU beds in Massachusetts hospitals were occupied and 56 percent of the 1,800 ICU beds were full as of Tuesday, according to the Department of Public Health. The northeast part of the state appears to be under the most stress -- its ICU capacity is maxed out and 82 percent of its non-ICU beds are already full.
In central Massachusetts, 75 percent of the 1,200 non-ICU beds are occupied and 67 percent of ICU beds are full, both higher than the statewide average.
Mayor Walsh warns of possible shutdown
Boston stands at a crucial inflection point in the pandemic's latest surge, and the arc of case growth over the next few days could determine whether city leaders reinstate a near-total shutdown, Mayor Marty Walsh warned Thursday.
In Walsh's view, the city has already deployed almost every resource and strategy -- a curfew, a mask mandate, shuttered school buildings and more -- it can to combat the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus.
But in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, new statewide case numbers reached a record high on Wednesday while Boston is counting new infections at a rate not seen since the spring.
Those figures pressed Walsh to caution on Thursday that, depending on how the trend moves, the "last resort" option of shutting everything down may come into consideration as soon as next week.
"The next step is shutting everything down. That's the next step," Walsh said at a press conference. "We've done that before and, you know, we're three weeks away from Christmas, our retailers need people to go in and shop in, our restaurants need people to eat in, people are working and they need to make money. That's the last resort, shutting things down."
"But if these numbers continue to go up and we see, maybe Tuesday, I'm standing here, I could be talking about putting plans down for shutting things down," he continued. "Hopefully, Tuesday, I'm talking about seeing the numbers go the other way again."
Boston recorded more than 400 new COVID-19 cases in each of the past two days, some of the highest daily infection totals in months. Since Friday, about 70 more patients have been admitted to Boston-area hospitals, which Walsh said is particularly concerning.
"Three, four days ago, we were talking about opening schools and keeping restaurants open, and today, it's in the back of our mind," he said.
State House News Service contributed to this report.