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As temperatures and COVID-19 cases rise, is Mass. dropping its guard against the coronavirus?

People crowded onto M Street Beach amid the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday. Many were not wearing masks.
People crowded onto M Street Beach amid the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday. Many were not wearing masks.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

As the region faced the prospect of baking heat continuing through Tuesday, there were more signs this weekend that people are letting down their guard amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Risks posed by the virus remain in Massachusetts, despite the state’s relatively low growth in numbers. On Saturday, the death toll due to the coronavirus grew by 12, reaching 8,291 confirmed deaths.

The same day in South Boston, beachgoers crowded the M Street Beach, where few were seen following health guidelines.

Esmerelda Oliveira, 51, watched the scene with concern from a nearby bench.

“There are no masks, no social distancing, nothing,” she said. “I have worries.”


The crowds grew on the South Boston beach as officials in Chatham registered people Saturday for a COVID-19 testing clinic after 13 people who had attended a house party there earlier this month tested positive for the coronavirus.

A state trooper wrote a citation for drinking at M Street Beach in Boston on Saturday.
A state trooper wrote a citation for drinking at M Street Beach in Boston on Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a Boston College professor and director of its Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, called reports of the new cases in Chatham “a worry” in an interview Saturday.

He said he thought many people in Massachusetts are becoming complacent about the coronavirus due to the state’s earlier success in limiting its spread.

“Until we have a vaccine, until we have an effective treatment, people just have to keep their guard up,” Landrigan said. “They have to keep doing what they have been doing so well, which is maintaining their distance, wearing masks when necessary. ... It’s not rocket science.”

But as health experts repeatedly ask the public to comply with measures meant to stop the coronavirus, the summer’s hot, humid weather is making it tougher for people to follow those rules.

“It’s hard to stay inside on a hot day like this,” said Daniel Garrison, 55, at Carson Beach on Saturday afternoon. “Obviously people aren’t wearing masks, so we just tried to find a spot with less people, which wasn’t hard.”


In Boston, temperatures reached 85 degrees shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday, said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton. Temperatures rose further inland, he said, with areas along Route 128 in the upper 80s to low 90s.

On Sunday, temperatures in the Boston area are expected to hit the mid-90s, with evening lows in the mid-70s, Simpson said. Monday will have temperatures in the high 90s, along with humidity levels that will drive the heat index up as far as 102 degrees, Simpson said.

As temperatures rise, people searching for cooler situations will have fewer options thanks to the pandemic. Many indoor air-conditioned public spaces — like community centers, restaurants, and museums — are closed or operating at drastically reduced capacity.

“Clearly people need to avoid extreme heat, but they also need to avoid getting within 6 feet of each other, and that’s not always easy,” Landrigan said. “It is tough.”

Even measures designed specifically to respond to the heat include limitations: In Boston, where Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared a health emergency starting Sunday, community centers and two public pools will open to help people stay cool. But there will be capacity limits, masks will be required in most areas, and in the case of the pools, swimmers have to schedule times in advance, Walsh said.

One new option for staying cool could be the Museum of Science,which is scheduled to reopen Sunday. Visitors must purchase advance tickets through its website or by calling its contact center, according to a museum spokeswoman.


At the M Street Beach in South Boston, groups of mainly young people sat on the crowded beach. Some played football, while others socialized in groups that numbered more than a dozen.

“It’s usually like this on the weekends,” said Mohammad Zire, 31, of Cambridge. “I think this beach is more safe than eating inside a restaurant.”

Governor Charlie Baker, who on Friday announced new rules for travelers coming from other states, also last week criticized the crowds at the M Street Beach the previous weekend and said if people don’t stay apart and wear face coverings, “we’ll have to limit the number of people who can be there.”

Noticeably fewer people could be seen at Carson Beach Saturday afternoon, with families and couples scattered across the sand.

“I’m not worried. Everyone is pretty spread out, and so we can come here and feel safe,” said Danielle Gawlik, 25, of South Boston.

Beaches patrolled by State Police in Boston, and along the North and South shores had a heavy volume of beachgoers Saturday, according to spokesman David Procopio.

State Police continued to partner with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation “on messaging regarding the need for masks and distancing,” he said.

In Chatham, a sign that some aren’t following those health rules was evident when a July 12 house party led to a slew of new COVID-19 cases.


Officials there are conducting contract tracing of the roughly 30 to 50 people who attended the party, according to Robert Duncanson, Chatham’s director of health and natural resources, on Saturday.

Tests for the virus will be offered Monday at a pop-up clinic located at the Town Annex parking lot, according to Duncanson.

Forty-four people have registered to be tested at the clinic, he said, which has been opened up to restaurant workers in Chatham, and the surrounding towns of Eastham, Orleans, Brewster, Harwich, and Dennis.

The cluster of COVID-19 cases has impacted several restaurants that were in the midst of a tourist season that has already taken a hit due to the pandemic.

“We’re aware of several restaurants that switched to take out only; others have closed for varying periods to allow for deep cleaning and/or employee testing in accordance with public health guidance,” Duncanson said in an e-mail.

Some Chatham restaurants temporarily closed after the news broke about the positive cases.

On Facebook, operators of the Talkative Pig restaurant announced Thursday that it would be closed until Monday after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The restaurant said that it had “no reason to believe” there was any risk of exposure to any of its guests, the post said. All employees wear masks and gloves, and the employee who was infected did not handle completed orders.

The employee is resting at home, the post said, and the restaurant is supporting its staff through the closure.


Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, said Friday the risk to co-workers and patrons who may have come into contact with an infected restaurant employee depends in large part on whether the employee wore a face covering.

“The big lesson here, for the people who are nowhere near Chatham, is we have every possibility of this hitting very close to home again,” she said.

Landrigan, the Boston College professor, said if education about health rules doesn’t work, Baker should look to enforcement. Landrigan pointed to efforts in New York state and South Korea that required people to follow public health rules in response to the pandemic.

Those efforts helped “flatten the curve” in both places, Landrigan said.

“I know it’s not Governor Baker’s political druthers to go to enforcement, but it may turn out to be the wise thing to do,” Landrigan said.

Craig Walker of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Jeremy C. Fox, Maysoon Khan, and Greg Levinsky contributed to this report.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.