(TNS) - Coronavirus cases are on the rise in communities across Massachusetts as campus outbreaks, clusters from social gatherings and nursing home infections push a record number of cities and towns into the high-risk “red zone.”
The Bay State’s four biggest cities and 19 other municipalities are all now classified as being at high risk for transmission — the highest number with that designation since the state switched to its new assessment system in August.
From communities that landed in the red zone for the first time this week, to those that have struggled mightily to leave it, officials are simply pleading with increasingly lax residents to keep taking the virus seriously.
“The biggest factor has been a certain laxity in separation and mask wearing for family gatherings,” Dr. Michael Hirsh, medical director of the Worcester Department of Public Health, told the Herald. “When you drive by when a Patriots game is going on, and you see 15, 20 cars in front of a house, that kind of situation people don’t associate with super-spreader events. But we have seen some outbreaks from those.”
Worcester officials — whose city has been listed in the red in the past three weekly state reports — linked their high-risk status to clusters that emerged from factories, retail establishments, long-term care facilities and four cases from a youth hockey league.
Leaders in several communities tied cases to people who had visited high-risk states, particularly Florida.
“The only thing that’s going to stop this virus is people taking personal responsibility, to wear a mask, to not create an environment where the virus can spread,” Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said.
Springfield slipped back into the red zone after being designated as a green community only two weeks ago. People attending home gatherings contributed to the uptick, Springfield Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said.
“We are able to trace some of it back to gatherings,” Caulton-Harris said. “It’s happening across the commonwealth and certainly across the nation.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that “many of our clusters have been the result of informal gatherings with no distance, no masks, shared food,” and warned that parties “will continue to be an issue for us” if people don’t follow public health protocols.
In Lowell, which moved into the red zone for the first time this week, health officials are tracing transmission to all city neighborhoods and across all age groups, “underscoring the need for heightened vigilance on the part of all residents,” Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue said.
Also new to the state’s high-risk list is North Andover, where Merrimack College recently reported 76 cases and switched to remote learning. North Andover officials said the town’s red designation is because of the college cluster, which appears to have been contained to the campus. Neighboring Middleton went red after a 17-case outbreak at the Middleton Jail. A fire department cluster put Attleboro on the list.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini linked cases in his now-red city primarily to an outbreak at Lakeview House Nursing Home that’s sickened more than 60 residents and staff and a cluster from a church that’s no longer open, as well as a few cases in the schools. The city is now suspending moderate- and high-risk school and city sports for the next three weeks, and is instituting contact tracing at all restaurants.
“Everybody wants this to be over, no one more than I do,” Fiorentini said. “But it isn’t and we need to maintain our vigilance.”
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