Coronavirus cases in Massachusetts increased by more than 2,000 for the sixth straight day Sunday, according to the state, while the virus has returned to levels not seen since April and continues to hinder in-class learning for students.
Fitchburg State University and Babson College in Wellesley announced they will switch to all-remote learning, a move officials at both schools attributed to upticks in coronavirus cases. Milton High School, which last week reopened for in-person learning, also switched back to remote classes after nine students tested positive for the virus.
The state Department of Public Health reported that confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed by 2,076 Sunday, bringing the Massachusetts total to 182,544. The state’s death toll reached 10,098, with 33 newly reported confirmed deaths.
The state said 30,374 people were estimated to have active virus cases, up 1,292 from a day earlier.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, pointed to state wastewater data that showed the presence of the virus in Massachusetts is now as high as it was in mid-April.
He noted that the April peak had come weeks after the state shutdown and when the weather was warming up. This new peak comes as the weather grows colder and casinos have reopened.
“Not sure what we’re doing here,” Jha said.
Wastewater data:— Ashish K. Jha (@ashishkjha) November 15, 2020
Level of virus in Massachusetts now as high as it was in mid-April
Not cases but people infected in the state
Mid-April peak was 3 weeks after state shut down, weather was warming
Today, casinos are open & its getting colder
Not sure what we're doing here pic.twitter.com/J28LosMaht
Nationally, the response to the coronavirus has fallen along political lines. President Trump, who downplays the virus, has been repeatedly criticized for his handling of the pandemic. Trump also refuses to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden, and that has left Biden’s transition team from being able to meet with government officials, including those in charge of public health.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, told CNN Sunday that Trump hasn’t attended a COVID-19 task force meeting for several months. Fauci called for cooperation in pandemic planning between the Trump administration and Biden’s team.
“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” Fauci told network anchor Jake Tapper.
More than 246,000 people across the country have died due to COVID-19 as of Sunday, and about 11 million cases have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The spread of the virus has resulted in a vexing logistical problem for school leaders.
Richard S. Lapidus, president of Fitchburg State University, told the campus community in a letter Thursday that residence halls would close for the semester as of next Sunday except for a limited number of students who may remain on campus with approval from the university.
Most classes will move to all-remote learning starting no later than Saturday, he said. On-campus COVID-19 testing will continue this week.
“People have shown compassion, empathy, and a heightened sense of responsibility for the well-being of others,” Lapidus said. “I am proud that so many members of our community have stepped-up and acted in a safe and responsible manner this semester.”
Babson College said Thursday that all classes would shift to online as of Friday. The campus is not closed, the college said on Twitter, and services for residential students remain operational with “appropriate modifications.”
Those measures include complying with increased testing regulations, such as being screened for COVID-19 within 72 hours of returning home for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the college.
In Milton, the high school’s principal said Saturday in a letter to parents that students would return to remote classes, after the school had reopened to in-person learning just Tuesday.The school had spent two weeks in remote learning, following an October spike in cases.
Since Thursday, the school has had nine confirmed cases among students, said Principal Karen J. Cahill.
The school building is expected to reopen Nov. 30, Cahill said in the letter.
“Students, families and staff who have been deemed close contacts will be contacted by the Milton Board of Health sometime in the next week, as the number of close contacts is quite large, causing a longer turnaround time,” Cahill said.
In Boston, city residents must do more, and soon, to prevent an economic shutdown, said Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Walsh said he has been concerned as the city’s number of new cases and hospitalizations have crept up since the summer. He warned that more must be done to stop the virus to keep businesses such restaurants, gyms, and hair salons open.
“If you’re walking down the street without a mask, you’re not doing your part,” Walsh said in an interview on WCVB-TV’s “On The Record.” “It really is incumbent upon all of us to do what we need to do to keep people safe.”
The mayor also said in the interview that he has had conversations with Governor Charlie Baker about reopening a field hospital at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to take some pressure off local hospitals.
“We’re seeing the coronavirus infection rate go in the wrong direction, which would mean ultimately that we’ll see additional hospitalizations,” Walsh said, and require a field hospital to handle the potential overflow. “Everything is on the table at this point, unfortunately.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.