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Troubling signs emerge that COVID-19 is tightening its hold on the state

People lined up at a Stop the Spread COVID-19 testing site in Winthrop last month.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Troubling signs emerged Sunday that the coronavirus was tightening its hold on Massachusetts as the state announced more than 1,000 new cases for the ninth straight day, along with some reported at a Newton medical office, a Fitchburg church, and in a Groveland school.

The latest figures came as health experts warned Sunday that the state must step up and do more immediately to stanch the surging number of new cases as the weather grows colder and people spend more time indoors.

Dr. Helen Jenkins, a Boston University epidemiologist, said people cannot become inured to daily reports of new deaths and new cases of the disease, and must continue to follow public health guidance.


“This virus isn’t going anywhere,” Jenkins said in a phone interview. “We can’t stop doing all the things that we are doing to try to take it down. And whenever we give the virus opportunities to transmit, it takes those opportunities.”

Among the reports of new cases that emerged over the weekend were some at a medical office adjacent to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where five workers tested positive for the disease.

In Fitchburg, health officials were tracking nearly 200 cases tied to activities at Crossroads Community Church and to local hockey programs.

And prekindergarten students at the Bagnall Elementary School in Groveland will switch to remote learning this week after two students at the school tested positive.

Dr. Robert Horsburgh, also a professor of epidemiology at Boston University, warned that people can’t afford to downplay the threat posed by COVID-19. His family has been directly impacted by COVID-19, he said: His wife’s aunt died after contracting the virus.

“This is a really serious illness for some people, and the fact that others have a mild illness, and don’t end up in a hospital or don’t end up dying, isn’t something you can count on,” Horsburgh said. “People should be afraid of it.”


The latest state data also come just days before a pivotal election. President Trump has continually downplayed the seriousness of the virus after contracting it, mocked health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, and made baseless claims that doctors were profiting from coronavirus deaths.

Across the country, about 230,000 COVID-19 deaths and nearly 9.2 million cases have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Horsburgh said Trump hasn’t done his job in leading the nation through the pandemic.

“The president has failed to provide any leadership,” Horsburgh said. “Most of the states in the country would have benefited if the president had gotten out in front, given the right advice, and urged people to do the right thing.”

On Sunday, the state’s Department of Public Health reported 22 new confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 9,788, and 1,139 new confirmed cases, bringing that total to 155,660.

In a statement Sunday, Sarah Finlaw, a spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker, said: “Every loss of life due to this insidious virus is a tragedy, and Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor [Karyn] Polito’s thoughts and prayers are with the friends, family, and loved ones of each of these individuals."

The disease has been keenly felt in Massachusetts' nursing homes and other long-term care facilities with a total of 6,426 confirmed and probable deaths in those places, according to state data released Sunday.


Dr. David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center and a Boston University epidemiologist, said the number of long-term care deaths in Massachusetts may help obscure the scope of the tragedy that has unfolded.

“If it’s not affecting you directly . . . you may not realize how serious this is,” Hamer said. “When it hits close to home, people have a much stronger appreciation of the severity of this disease.”

Across the state Sunday, local officials were responding to the additional cases of COVID-19.

In Newton, five employees working at Newton-Wellesley Physicians Primary Care tested positive for COVID-19, said hospital spokeswoman Heidi Wilson Sunday in a statement. Their office is located inside the White Medical Office Building adjacent to the hospital.

Officials became aware of the first case on Oct. 22, Wilson said, and of the five workers, two are asymptomatic. Those five workers are being quarantined, along with a sixth employee who declined to be tested.

Nine patients who had more than 15 minutes of contact with one of the confirmed cases have been contacted “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Wilson. The patients' exposure is believed to be low and they will be offered free COVID-19 testing, she said.

A deep cleaning of the office has been conducted, and it will be closed Monday, she said.

The hospital is also testing all employees from the affected practice every three days for two weeks following the last positive test, which was late last month.


A state Department of Public Health epidemiologist will be assigned to the cluster, she said.

In Groveland, prekindergarten students at the Bagnall Elementary School will switch to remote learning until at least Nov. 12 after two children tested positive for COVID-19, officials said in a statement Sunday.

The school, which is part of the Pentucket Regional School District, also serves students in kindergarten through Grade 6, but those students are unaffected by the change and will continue with hybrid learning, according to the statement.

In Fitchburg, the number of COVID-19 cases linked to Crossroads Community Church has grown to nearly 150 after officials reported more than two-dozen cases tied to the church last weekend, according to Stephen D. Curry, the city’s director of public health.

A representative of the church did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

The city is also facing more than 40 confirmed cases tied to local hockey programs, Curry said in a statement.

A Mobile COVID-19 Test Site will be open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Coggshall Park Stone House, the city said in the statement.

The city is among the state’s “higher risk” communities and is marked as red on the state’s COVID-19 map, according to the Department of Public Health.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.