Two mayors whose cities have slipped into the coronavirus high-risk category said Thursday that they were seeing general increases in virus cases, rather than spikes due to particular outbreaks.
“We don’t see that there’s a particular source of outbreak,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.
“I’m not surprised we’ve ticked into this,” he said, noting that many scientists have been warning of a surge in cases in coming months. “Somerville has been careful and measured in its reopening. But we’re still a neighbor and abutter” to other cities in the area “and we know the virus knows no boundaries.”
Officials’ best guess is that the virus is simply spreading in “familial settings,” said Curtatone, whose city had 8.2 daily cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days.
Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan said his city has seen a “slow, steady increase” not a “spike or a jump” in cases as might be expected from an outbreak at a nursing home or a school.
He said the cause seemed to be “friend parties or small get-togethers and people not doing what they’re supposed to do." Fall River has a rate of 8.5.
There are now 63 cities and towns in Massachusetts that are in the high-risk, or red category, a designation given to communities that have a rate of more than 8.0, according to data released by the state Wednesday night. That was up from 40 cities and towns a week ago. When the state first began its rankings in mid-August, only 4 communities were in the red category.
Boston, the state’s largest city, remained in the red category, with a rate of 11.1. The statewide average also landed in the red, with an average daily rate at 8.7.
Coogan said a number of free testing sites are available in Fall River and anyone can call the mayor’s office if they have questions. He said residents have to stay with the well-known practices that they’re getting tired of hearing about, including social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, and staying home from work if they feel ill.
“It’s just a matter of people staying strong and staying smart,” he said.
"No community wants to be in the red zone. We’re going to do our best to work our way out the other side,” he said.
Curtatone noted that the Somerville case rate is lower than the state’s and predicted that the city would “move out and possibly move back in” to the higher-risk category.
He called for more of a regional approach to fighting the pandemic, rather than the current town-by-town approach, which he likened to the arcade game “Whac-a-Mole.”
“It’s time to be bold and deliberate in doing what we need to do to knock down the resurgence of this pandemic,” he said.
“If we continue on this varying approach, town by town, we’re going to be faced … with shutting things down on massive levels and that does not bode well for a sustainable recovery,” he warned.
The city has “robust” testing and contact tracing capability and will continue its work to educate the public and ask people to be vigilant and not their guard down, he said.
He said the densely populated city was the first in the state to mandate wearing masks and eased the mask order somewhat during the summer to allow people outside to take them off if they were able to socially distance. With the fall and winter coming, officials are examining whether the mask order should be tightened again so people have to wear them outside, no matter what distance they maintain.
“We need to double down on efforts” to contain the virus, he said, “if we’re going to prevent the surge from overwhelming us.”
In Milton, which had a rate of 13.5, Caroline Kinsella, health director said a handful of cases associated with local colleges had “just bumped us into the red.”
Milton usually gets 0 to 2 cases a day. If the town goes over 2.29 cases a day, “We’re going into the red zone,” she said.
In general, she said, "more people are getting together. The more interaction you have with more peep the more chance you have of spreading the virus.”
She said she was concerned about the fall and winter as people gather inside due to the cold weather. The town will continue trying to get public health messages out , but “people are weary at this point. It’s tough. It really is tough."
In Wakefield, which had a rate of 9.0, officials pointed to a cluster for the reason for their dip into the red zone. A statement posted Wednesday on the town website said that there had “been a significant increase of positive cases in Wakefield due to a cluster at one location." The statement noted that the town was also seeing some increase from “community cases.”
“This news serves as an important reminder that we must continue to take all measures to slow the spread of the virus, especially since individuals can have the Coronavirus yet be asymptomatic,” the statement said.
Michelle Monsegur, assistant town administrator in Hingham, which had a rate of 9.9, said in an e-mail, “While this is our first week in the 'red’ category, the Town takes this change very seriously. We continue to stress the importance of following DPH and CDC guidelines, especially as they relate to social distancing and face coverings. We are asking all residents, businesses, and visitors to please be vigilant in following state and federal COVID-19 recommendations.”
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.