While you’ve been riveted to your screens watching the storming of the Capitol and the move to impeach President Donald Trump, the coronavirus has continued to surge in Massachusetts. And some of the latest data is sending worrisome signals.
The numbers come amid fears that winter holiday gatherings may have given the already surging virus a boost. Massachusetts, along with the rest of the nation, could face a dark winter before desperately-needed vaccinations finally make a difference, experts have said.
The timing of a spike in cases in recent days is a “perfect fit” with the spike being caused by the holidays, said Dr. David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center who is a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University.
He said he hoped that the state had reached the peak of its pandemic. “I would hope that things would at least slow down somewhat, maybe flatten out, and start to drop. But that might be too optimistic,” he said.
Here is a set of charts that show how we’re doing:
Cases peaked in December and then dipped, but they began rising again in the new year. On Thursday, the day after the shocking assault on the Capitol, the seven-day average of cases edged up to 4,820, the highest number yet during the state’s pandemic.
With the help of daily case tallies over 7,000 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the seven-day average climbed further into record territory, reaching 6,033 by Sunday.
Deaths are moving higher, though they haven’t reached the same heights they reached during the spring. Doctors have theorized that the numbers are lower this time because those infected tend to be younger, treatments have improved, and health systems aren’t as overwhelmed.
Total hospitalizations for confirmed cases of the virus have been on the rise, though they appear to have seen modest declines in recent days. The number of people who are so ill they have to be treated in intensive care units has also been rising.
The percentage of tests for coronavirus that come back positive is a metric closely watched by experts and officials. The numbers have moderated somewhat from a peak reached around New Year’s.
The seven-day average positivity rate of all tests administered in Massachusetts was 7.2 percent on Sunday. The rate would be 8.36 percent if the effect of college testing programs - in which asymptomatic people can be tested repeatedly in an effort to rapidly identify new cases - is factored out
The road ahead
The state is monitoring the wastewater at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island treatment plant for traces of the coronavirus, hoping to use the results as an early-warning system of future case trends.
The latest results, which reflect tests conducted up to Thursday, were mixed. Tests in the northern portion of the MWRA’s system, which includes Boston, suggested the virus was on the decline there. But tests in the southern portion of the system, which includes communities south and west of Boston, suggested that the virus had reached recordbreaking levels.
A national tragedy
The problems in Massachusetts come as cases and deaths have been rising around the country. Models predict that by the time Republican President Trump leaves office on Jan. 20 around 400,000 people will have died from the pandemic. Democratic president-elect Joe Biden has promised to ramp up efforts against the virus, including getting 100 million vaccine shots into people’s arms during his first 100 days in office and urging people to wear masks during that period.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.