As Massachusetts reported more than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus Saturday, calls came for Governor Charlie Baker to release specific plans for how the state will address the pandemic as numbers are expected to continue climbing into the fall and winter.
Baker has said he expected more cases to emerge in the fall — but that the state has “done the work.”
Officials have “prepared to respond to this virus like never before,” Baker told reporters earlier this month. “What we need from you is continued vigilance as we head into the ninth month of fighting this virus.”
The 1,128 new cases reported Saturday represented the highest one-day hike since late May and along with the growing number were demands the state start laying out what officials plan to do as the weather grows colder and people gather indoors more frequently.
Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University, expressed frustration Saturday that the state hasn’t rolled out specific plans, even as the governor anticipates more cases.
“He hasn’t told us what his plan was. He’s confident that they can handle it, great. But what’s the plan?” Horsburgh said.
The latest number of new cases “means more people are catching it, and we should be thinking about how to stop it, otherwise we’ll end up looking like Wisconsin,” Horsburgh said.
Dr. Sam Scarpino, a Northeastern University epidemiologist, said scientists have some evidence that the coronavirus could spread more easily in colder, drier weather.
“It could be that we’re going to have to make modifications as we go into the winter,” Scarpino said of the state’s ongoing reopening effort. “And far as I can tell, we don’t have a clear plan for that being communicated from the state around what the triggers would be [and] what they would target first.”
The increase reported Saturday brought the state’s total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 146,023, according to state data from the state Department of Public Health.
The death toll in Massachusetts due to confirmed cases of the coronavirus totaled 9,616 as of Saturday, according to the state.
The most recent three-day average of new COVID-19 deaths, for Wednesday, was 19, the state reported Saturday.
The latest figures from state officials also come after the US coronavirus caseload grew by more than 83,000 new cases Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Across the United States, nearly 225,000 people have died from the virus, and more than 8.5 million cases have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University Saturday.
On Saturday, the state reported 19,168 new people received molecular tests for the virus, bringing the total number of people who received that test to more than 2.6 million.
The state’s seven-day average positive rate, calculated from all those tests administered, was at 1.5 percent Friday, the state reported Saturday. That figure has steadily increased since late last month, when the state reported a rate below 1 percent.
A separate measure of positivity that is based on daily positive tests per people tested was at 6.6 percent Thursday, according to the state. That daily rate can fluctuate, and has dipped as low as 3.3 percent earlier in October. But it has been on an upward trajectory since mid-September, when that rate ranged between 1.8 percent and 2.9 percent, according to state data.
In separate phone interviews, both Horsburgh and Scarpino criticized the state for not releasing further details about COVID-19 infections — data both experts said is critical to stopping the spread of the virus.
Apart from the latest state data, Scarpino pointed to other signs of the virus’s spread, including a program that is detecting increasing traces of the virus in wastewater at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority plant at Deer Island. The pilot program is considered an early warning system for future surges of COVID-19.
“That’s through the roof in the last few days,” Scarpino said of the wastewater data. “What I see is a consistent picture being painted... all pointing in a very worrying direction.”
The state has continued to relax measures as part of the economic reopening, and “it’s entirely possible” those steps are causing part of the increase, Scarpino said. “The state’s not providing the data that we need to make more informed decisions.”
Horsburgh, who called the latest case figure “obviously a bad number,” said most people in Massachusetts appear to be following public health rules — like wearing masks and practicing social distancing — but individual action on its own can’t protect everyone.
“What they need to know is what’s going on, and the state health department needs to tell them,” he said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.