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Deborah Birx warns Boston is among major US cities seeing increases in coronavirus cases

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, warned this week that Boston is one of several major US cities seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, as Massachusetts public health officials warn of a troubling uptick in the number of confirmed cases of the potentially deadly virus.

On Thursday, state officials reported 162 new cases, bringing the total to 111,533. The Massachusetts death toll from confirmed cases had risen by 32 to 8,470, according to the data.

The number of fatalities was the highest single-day death toll among confirmed cases in at least a month. However, key metrics monitored for the state’s pace of reopening are still low relative to the springtime surge.


Birx cautioned that Boston is one of four major cities that have increasing cases of the virus and rising rates of test positivity as she spoke Wednesday to public health officials nationally in a private call. A recording of the call was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

It was not known Thursday night if any Boston or state public health officials were on the call.

“I also wanted to draw your attention to the fact that we are seeing a slow uptick in test positivity and cases in places like Chicago, Boston, and Detroit, and D.C.,” Birx said, according to the recording. “Right now, we’re looking at that as a metro, which is both the city itself and its county surrounding.”

Suffolk County includes Boston, Winthrop, Revere, and Chelsea, a city that has had one of the state’s largest outbreaks. In weekly data released Wednesday, Boston, Chelsea, and Revere all showed increasing numbers of cases. Boston’s 14-day positivity rate for testing was 2.16 percent, while Chelsea’s rate was 4.93 percent, and Revere’s was 6.05 percent. Winthrop showed no change.


Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo said Thursday night that city officials were “monitoring the same data as Dr. Birx and share her concerns.”

“Today we announced that our students will be learning remotely when the school year begins and have suspended all city events until data improves — specifically our positive test rate,” Arrigo said in a statement. “Every city, neighborhood, and individual has a role to play to keep our economy open, get our students back into schools, and prevent unnecessary loss of life.”

The Boston Public Health Commission also has noted a small uptick in confirmed cases in the city over the past two weeks and is closely monitoring the daily number of positive tests, positivity rate, and number of emergency room visits, an official said.

Except for Washington, D.C., the cities Birx named are in states in the “green” category for coronavirus containment, she said, meaning they have less than one new case each day per 100,000 residents.

“Green states that start to see a small trending-up of numbers should really work at this very carefully and get on top of this,” she said.

The state Department of Public Health also reported 69 new probable cases on Thursday, bringing that total to 8,341. No new probable deaths were reported, keeping that total at 221.

Thursday’s numbers come as some experts have urged the state to consider rolling back a phase in its reopening plan, and Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday hinted that he could tighten restrictions if numbers continue to climb. Local hospitals are also keeping a close eye on the recent increase in numbers, and are preparing for a potential second wave.


“We are very concerned about the rising [infection] rates that we have seen,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham.

The seven-day weighted average of positive tests was at 2.1 percent for the third day in a row on Wednesday. The current number still represents a 93 percent drop from mid-April highs.

The three-day average of hospitalized coronavirus patients ticked up slightly from 375 on Tuesday to 384 as of Wednesday. It was down 89 percent since mid-April.

The number of hospitals using surge capacity stayed at four for the second consecutive day, representing an 81 percent drop since mid-April. And the three-day average of deaths from confirmed coronavirus cases dipped slightly, from 15 on Sunday to 12 on Monday — a 92 percent decrease from mid-April.

State officials said 11,555 more people had been tested for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of individuals tested to 1,262,877. The total number of tests administered climbed to 1,653,792.

The state reported that new antibody tests had been completed for 598 people, bringing that total to 99,768.

Recent days have seen COVID-19 cases tick up in Massachusetts, although Baker noted that the phenomenon could likely be at least partly attributed to free testing sites the state has set up in several highly impacted communities.


In one such community, Revere, officials announced Thursday that they would suspend all city events and that students would start fall classes by learning remotely, citing “recent, alarming trends” in its COVID-19 positivity rates.

“Over the past two weeks, the city of Revere has seen its daily new case average triple, as testing has increased by 55 percent,” a statement from the city said. “The City’s positive test rate is above 6 percent for the second consecutive week, nearly triple the State’s one-week average.”

The statement said much of the spread was through “large, private gatherings, including one case in the city of Revere in which a single individual infected at least 20 family members and friends at gatherings.”

The numbers come as a widely cited University of Washington model predicts US deaths from COVID-19 will reach nearly 300,000 by Dec. 1. The forecast of 295,011 deaths is 137,000 more than the roughly 158,000 US deaths reported so far. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model assumes that many states will impose new stay-at-home orders as deaths climb.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss