With a holiday weekend ahead, Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday renewed his calls for residents to avoid large gatherings, as community activists criticized city and state officials for allowing a massive two-day street festival in Dorchester last weekend that they fear could become a “super-spreader” event.
At a State House news conference, Baker said social events, especially in communities with persistently high infection rates, are a major contributor to the spread of the virus, which has killed 8,870 people in Massachusetts since March.
“No one can afford to gather in large groups in these communities,” he said. “This is critically important.”
Eight communities — Chelsea, Everett, Framingham, Lawrence, Lynn, Revere, Westhampton, and Winthrop — are currently considered at high risk for COVID-19, the state Department of Public Health reported. At the same time, a statewide measurement of the prevalence of the virus reached its lowest mark to date.
Baker said contact tracing of infected people indicates that gatherings are “by far the single biggest issue,” as the death toll from confirmed cases of the coronavirus rose by 17 to 8,870. The number of confirmed cases climbed by 393 to nearly 120,000, the state reported Thursday.
“The last thing we should do is give it opportunities . . . as frustrating and as difficult as that can be,” Baker said.
He said the state is adding new measures to fight the spread, including a new website, mass.gov/stopcovid19, advertising on billboards and social media, multilingual field teams, and outreach to local community groups.
Over the past two weeks, the average virus rate statewide is 4.2 cases per 100,000 people, the governor’s office said. But in Chelsea, the rate is 29.4 cases, and in Revere it’s 20.9. It’s 15.9 in Everett, 14.9 in Lawrence, and 12.1 in Lynn.
Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo said he realizes many city residents are “tired of hearing from us, they’re tired of restrictions, and of the sacrifices that they continue to make to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
“It would be easy for us to throw up our hands and give up. But instead we have to dig in, and we have to do more,” he said. “We have to think of new ways to communicate with our residents. We have to think of new ways to bring awareness to the risk levels, and we have to bring new ways to implement new policies, encourage greater compliance with public health guidelines.”
Baker’s warning came as members of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition said 2,000 to 3,000 people had attended an open-air party that shut down Talbot Avenue near Franklin Park on both Friday and Saturday, while police and other officials failed to intervene.
Organizers used social media to invite people to the event, set up loudspeakers and tables, and attracted a crowd so large that MBTA buses were diverted off the major street, the group said.
The group warned that another large gathering in Dorchester is slated for this weekend and called on city and state officials to treat the party as a major threat to public health and prevent it from taking place.
Louis Elisa, who is also a member of a city panel on COVID-19 health care inequities, said infection rates are increasing in the city’s minority neighborhoods.
“An event like this will only exacerbate those numbers and make it more dangerous,’' he said.
Elisa said that he saw police on Talbot Avenue during the celebrations, but that they didn’t intervene to break up the revelry until early Sunday morning, despite repeated requests from neighbors.
“None of the people in the community expected it, they didn’t want it, and they called constantly to 911 about the noise that went on to 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said.
Dianne Wilkerson, a former state senator, said most of those who attended the celebration did not wear masks or comply with social distancing guidelines.
“I want to be protected,” Wilkerson said. “We have a right to expect that.”
The mayor’s office said Boston police sent officers to Talbot Avenue over the weekend to ensure public safety and remind participants of voluntary public health guidelines, and officers restricted traffic to stop residents from gathering in large numbers. No arrests were made.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined Baker in imploring the public not to attend large gatherings.
“To all those who are throwing parties in our city: stop putting residents’ health and lives at risk,” Walsh said in a statement. “Large groups of people gathering together is dangerous right now in Boston, and completely unacceptable.”
Walsh’s office did not immediately respond to an e-mail asking if they knew about the party beforehand. At the news conference, Baker was asked about the street party.
“My understanding is that State Police and Boston police responded to those calls, engaging with people there, and basically working to come up with an answer that would translate into people leaving peacefully,’' he said, referring to tension between police and the minority community. “It took a while. . . Maybe it took too long, but [law enforcement] did show up.”
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said in an e-mail that troopers went to Talbot Avenue early Saturday morning at the request of Boston police “and assisted with road closures to divert traffic, reduce access and peacefully disperse those in attendance to comply with COVID-19 public health guidance and orders.”
Members of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, some of whom have lost relatives to COVID-19, questioned why Baker briefly activated the Massachusetts National Guard last weekend in case large gatherings were held, but did not deploy them to Talbot Avenue.
Officials from Baker’s office said that the state had not received advance notice of the party and that Baker had not considered sending the National Guard to Dorchester.
“As we have said, the Guard was activated at the request of local officials in the event that local law enforcement requested assistance for the anticipated large demonstrations,” Lizzy Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said in an e-mail.
Health officials, meanwhile, reported the highest single day of testing to date, with 31,584 more people tested. The total number of tests administered climbed to more than 2.56 million.
The state also reported that new antibody tests had been completed for 441 people, bringing that total to 114,108. The seven-day positive rate, a metric closely watched by state officials, was at 0.9 percent, the lowest observed value since the pandemic began.
“We should be proud of the fact that that’s happened because it wouldn’t have happened without the people in Massachusetts stepping up every day and doing the things they need to do to work with us to stop the spread,” Baker said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
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