The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Friday reported 4,464 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths after skipping a day of reporting for Thanksgiving, as medical experts expressed concern over people who may have disregarded warnings to stay home or gather in small groups for the holiday.
The total number of cases rose to 211,748, while the total number of deaths rose to 10,401. The report contained data collected from early afternoon Wednesday through 8 a.m. Friday, the state said.
Medical specialists said the data was probably skewed by the holiday and it will be sometime next week before it becomes clear whether Thanksgiving gatherings will lead to large numbers of new infections.
“My hope is that more people than not listened to the state and the CDC and had smaller gatherings, immediate family, less travel,” said Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University’s schools of public health and medicine. “But certainly not everybody was doing that.”
Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said he has heard from friends who traveled to parts of the United States where locals didn’t wear masks and follow COVID-19 protocols.
He’s concerned about the number of people who may bring an infection back from their holiday trips, especially those with mild or nonexistent symptoms who may not bother to get tested for the virus.
“Those people then unknowingly may transmit it to other people that they work with, or their parents, or people who are older and more vulnerable,” Karan said. “So within a few weeks... we’ll start to see the hospitalizations uptick even more.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said the state is experiencing a second surge of the virus and the current rate of infection rivals the highs of “the worst days of April.”
“Things in Massachusetts are really very concerning,” Jha said. “I think the next four to six weeks are going to be among the worst of the pandemic for us, and by a lot.”
In new community data Friday, 81 cities and towns were considered high-risk for the virus, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Revere, which have among the highest positivity rates in the state. Communities added this week include Bellingham, Berkley, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Haverhill, Lenox, Mendon, Millbury, Oak Bluffs, Rutland, Upton, and Westminster.
Three weeks ago, the state revised its metrics for determining transmission risks in cities and towns, dramatically reducing the number of “red zone” communities with an eye toward getting students back in schools.
In the first week that the state applied the new standards, the number of such communities plummeted from 121 cities and towns — including Boston — to just 16. But that number nearly doubled to 30 the following week, before more than doubling again last week to 62. Friday’s data saw an increase of 19 communities.
New guidelines use population data to determine if a community is at high risk for the virus. A community with fewer than 10,000 residents must have more than 25 cases, while communities with 10, 000 to 50,000 residents must have more than 10 cases and a positivity rate of 5 percent or higher. Larger communities must have more than 10,000 cases per 100,000 people, and a positive test rate of greater than 4 percent.
Boston’s average daily rate of infection per 100,000 residents was at 33.9 in Friday’s data, up from 31.5 last week, the department said. The statewide average daily rate was at 34.9, up from 29.4 last week.
The state also said 41,852 people were estimated to have the potentially deadly virus.
State officials reported that 119,742 more tests had been conducted for coronavirus over the extended period. The total number of tests administered climbed to more than 8.25 million. New antigen tests were completed for 3,390 people, bringing that total to 257,397.
The seven-day average rate of positive tests, which is calculated from the total number of tests administered, was at 3.3 percent. The lowest observed figure for that metric — a number watched closely by state officials — is 0.8 percent.
The seven-day average of hospitalized coronavirus patients rose to 936. The lowest that metric has been is 155.
The seven-day average of deaths has been as high as 27 in recent days; the lowest that number has been is 11.
The state recently changed the way it reports some statistics related to positive tests, introducing a new metric that attempts to isolate the effect of public health programs undertaken by colleges, in which asymptomatic people can be tested repeatedly in an effort to rapidly identify new cases.
On Friday, the state said the seven-day rate would be 4.86 percent if not for people tested in higher-education settings. However, the state’s overall rate still includes others who might be repeatedly tested, such as health care workers, long-term care providers and residents, and first responders.
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