The rate of Massachusetts coronavirus cases is edging upward again, while the rate of vaccinations to protect people from the deadly disease has essentially plateaued, adding to the suspense over whether the state can avoid another surge.
Will the state win its high-stakes race, administering shots to enough people fast enough to stop the virus? Only time will tell.
The rate of coronavirus cases reported in the state has been moving up slightly for about the past two weeks, from a seven-day average slightly above 1,300 to a seven-day average of 1,678 on Wednesday.
“Absolutely, we should be concerned,” said Northeastern University epidemiologist Sam Scarpino.
Test positivity rates have also been edging upward, and in the past few days hospitalizations have followed suit.
Scarpino attributed the case increases both to the arrival of coronavirus variants and to people letting down their guard as Governor Charlie Baker has loosened coronavirus restrictions. “This is exactly the reason that so many of us were saying it was too soon to be relaxing measures,” he said.
Increases have also been seen in a number of other states. Experts are worried an alarming spike in Michigan might be a sign of trouble ahead.
Meanwhile, the pace of coronavirus vaccinations in Massachusetts stopped climbing and has wavered up and down in the past two weeks.
The seven-day average of total doses administered edged over 60,000 on March 9 and March 10. The numbers have fluctuated between 50,000 and 60,000 since, rising in recent days to the high 50,000s.
Baker says the state can administer more doses, but it needs more vaccine supply from the federal government. He said Thursday at a media briefing that “we still see a constrained supply with respect to the demand we have and the capacity we have to put shots in people’s arms.”
But he also offered hope, saying the state was “starting to see an increase in doses” and “we’re optimistic the federal government will deliver on bigger shipments of vaccines as we go forward, so that we can continue to make progress in making sure that a vaccine is available to everybody who wants one.”
Baker also announced at the briefing that the state would be getting a boost from another round of about 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The initial shipments of the one-dose vaccine bolstered the state’s vaccine numbers in early March, but they slowed to a trickle as the month wore on.
While the rate of vaccinations has stopped increasing, the number of people getting shots in Massachusetts continues to mount, with more than 3.1 million shots administered as of Wednesday, and more than 1.1 million people fully vaccinated.
Baker has emphasized that the state has made major strides in vaccinating older people, the group hit hardest by the virus.
Scarpino said that while vaccinated older people may be protected, younger people can still get the disease, and there will still be hospitalizations and deaths from it, though not as many. Some people will also get long COVID, afflicted with symptoms for months.
He said the state should have allowed more time for vaccinations and for warmer weather to set in that would allow more outdoor dining and gatherings and better indoor ventilation.
“We could have gotten out of this without another surge by following the public health guidelines that we know work,” he said.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.