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Areas With COVID Clusters to Get Asterisk on Health Reports

Starting Thursday, when the health department will publish its town risk map weekly, “the Command Center will identify if a municipality's positive cases have been significantly impacted by a clearly identified cluster.”

A group of people social distancing on a sidewalk.
Oct. 21—Massachusetts cities and towns that have significant coronavirus clusters in long-term care facilities, college campuses or correctional facilities will get an asterisk next to their names in future weekly public health reports.
But leaders in Middleton and North Andover — who blame "isolated" outbreaks at the Middleton Jail and Merrimack College, respectively, for unfairly putting their towns in the high-risk "red zone" along with 61 other communities — say it's a hollow gesture that still won't allow them to move ahead in reopening.
"An asterisk does not help much, other than provide something we can point to" in order to explain the town's high-risk status, Middleton Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said. "While I appreciate the sentiment, it does not materially change things for Middleton."
Beginning Thursday — the new day the Department of Public Health's town risk map will publish each week — "the Command Center will identify if a municipality's positive cases have been significantly impacted by a clearly identified cluster in a long-term care facility, higher education institution or correctional facility," DPH said in a statement Wednesday.
The change comes a week after Gov. Charlie Baker said, "I don't think it makes sense" to alter the metrics for "one or two outliers."
A community's risk level color will include an asterisk if a long-term care facility, college campus or jail has more than 10 cases and results in 30% of the municipality's total cases over the past two weeks.
"Adding this identification acknowledges the impact of a particular institution or facility on the community's case count and provides valuable information for residents and municipal leaders to consider when implementing policies in their community," DPH said.
But even with an asterisk, DPH said cities and towns will remain in their red or yellow category — and those in the red still can't proceed with step two of Phase 3 of reopening or raise their caps on gathering limits.
"An asterisk means nothing to our local small businesses who continue to face enormous challenges during this emergency," state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D- Methuen, whose district includes part of North Andover, said in a statement. "With the governor not budging on the designation, we continue to eagerly await a plan from his administration to keep our local businesses from going under."
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