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Walsh urges Bostonians to get tested for COVID-19 as infections reach 9 million nationally

Mayor Martin J. Walsh unveiled the pledge at City Hall on Thursday.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh unveiled the pledge at City Hall on Thursday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts exceeded 1,000 for the sixth straight day Thursday, bringing the total to 151,741, as Boston and 120 other cities and towns across the state were designated high-risk for COVID-19.

The state Department of Public Health reported 1,243 new confirmed cases Thursday and said the statewide death toll from confirmed cases rose by 27 to 9,727.

The increase locally comes as the number of infections in the United States has surpassed 9 million, The New York Times reported.

Additional state data released Thursday indicate that dozens of COVID-19 clusters in the past month have been identified in child care settings, nursing homes, senior living centers, restaurants and food courts, and from organized athletic activities.

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Yet many of these clusters — identified as two or more confirmed cases with a common exposure — resulted in a relatively small percentage of the roughly 20,000 new confirmed cases for that period. By far the largest number of clusters counted by Massachusetts are from households, defined as a shared residence of people who are not identified with another cluster.

The state’s new data show 2,707 clusters involving 6,830 new cases linked to households. That accounts for about a third of all the new infections in the past month.

Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said the household data leave too many unanswered questions.

“What we really want to understand is how is the spread getting into the community,” she said. “Residents living in the same household, we know they are likely to spread it to each other.”

More than a third of the state’s cities and towns were designated high-risk for the virus in the data released Thursday, as Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the “Get The Test Boston” pledge, an initiative aimed at getting more people tested for the virus.

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“Getting tested is how you keep yourself and your family safe,” Walsh said at an afternoon briefing. "And it’s also how we track the presence of the virus in our community.”

The mayor added that he gets tested for the virus on a regular basis.

“It’s quick, it doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to arm yourself with knowledge and be part of a community defense against this virus.”

Cities and towns are designated high-risk when they have registered more than 8 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days. There were 77 communities, including Boston, in the red zone in last week’s report, up from 63 the week before, the Department of Public Health reported. The statewide average remained in the red zone, as well.

Boston’s average daily rate of infection per 100,000 residents was at 15.8, up from 12.0 last week, the department said. The statewide average daily rate was at 11.8, up from 9.2 last week.

State officials also reported that 18,333 more people had been tested for the virus since Wednesday’s report, bringing the total to more than 2.7 million. The number of tests administered climbed to more than 5.93 million. New antibody tests had been completed for 278 people, bringing that total to 126,754.

The seven-day average rate of positive tests, which is calculated from the total number of tests administered rather than individual people tested, remained at 1.8 percent for a fifth consecutive day after ticking up slowly from 1.1 percent at the beginning of October. The lowest observed figure for that metric — a number watched closely by state officials — is 0.8 percent, a rate the state reached in mid-September before cases began ticking back up.

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The state also offers another measure of test positivity: daily positive tests per people tested, which some specialists have suggested is a better measure of the pandemic. That number stood at 6.6 percent for the state in Thursday’s report after dropping from 6.2 percent to 5.5 percent the day before.

The three-day average of hospitalized coronavirus patients increased slightly from 566 to 570 in Thursday’s report. The lowest that metric has been is 302, which it last reached on Aug. 29.

The number of hospitals using surge capacity dropped from four to three, and the three-day average of deaths from confirmed cases remained at 21 for a third straight day; the lowest that number has been is nine.

Boston officials said companies can take the city’s testing pledge by encouraging all employees to get tested, especially people with symptoms, those at risk for health complications upon infection, anyone in close contact with someone infected, and anyone who’s traveled or attended a large gathering.

“If you meet any of these criteria you should get tested without delay,” Walsh said. “But as a city we want to go further than that. We know that the virus is spreading among people who don’t have symptoms, among people who don’t know they’ve been exposed. So we want to be proactive. If you’re leaving your house for any reason, you could be exposed. So I’m encouraging you to get tested and make it a regular part of your routine.”

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City workers, Walsh’s office said, will be eligible for one paid hour to get tested once every 14 days during their normal work hours. Officials are urging businesses to consider similar arrangements and also to spread the word on locations for testing, including Boston’s free mobile testing sites.

Testing at the two mobile sites, currently located in Central Square in East Boston and in Nubian Square in Roxbury, are free to all comers, regardless of whether they have symptoms. A full list of testing locations is available on the city’s website.

Walsh said parties could be a problem over the Halloween weekend.

“There should be no parties this weekend,” he said.

The mayor encouraged families to opt for virtual Halloween events and said that if they do trick-or-treat Saturday, they should not knock on doors and only take candy left out for children on porches.

Earlier this week, Governor Charlie Baker said workplace infections are not driving the state’s surge in cases, but the cluster data released Thursday suggests that’s an open question.

The data show that about 16 percent of the confirmed cases linked to clusters in the past month are from sites such as health care facilities, restaurants, retail stores, and other settings.

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As the holidays approach, Baker has urged residents to be cautious about social gatherings, but the new data suggest those gatherings are not necessarily fueling the latest surge in infections.

The new numbers show 11 new clusters traced to social gatherings in the last month. Yet those clusters accounted for just 67 new confirmed cases, along with 50 other people considered close contacts who may have been infected.

“Clearly that is not what is driving this latest spike of over 1,000 new cases a day,” Pavlos said.

Travis Andersen, Martin Finucane, and Dasia Moore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.