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Rise in Boston’s COVID-19 rates brings warning for Easter, Passover holiday weekend

The vaccine was administered Thursday at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center clinic at La Colaborativa in Chelsea.
The vaccine was administered Thursday at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center clinic at La Colaborativa in Chelsea.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Amid new evidence that Boston’s COVID positivity rate is continuing to climb, elected officials on Thursday urged residents to remain vigilant over the upcoming Easter and Passover weekend and Governor Charlie Baker announced vaccination efforts in the state’s hardest-hit communities.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey pleaded with residents to be cautious, noting that the city’s seven-day test positivity rate was 4.8 percent. Boston Public Health Commission spokeswoman Caitlin McLaughlin said that the city’s goal is to keep the overall rate below 4 percent and that 5 percent is a “threshold for concern.”

“I want to take a moment to remind everyone that COVID-19 is still with us,” Janey said at a news conference. “We know everyone’s tired, but we’re really close. We just need everyone to hang in there a little bit longer.”

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Neighborhoods in Dorchester, South Boston, Roxbury, and East Boston were all above 5 percent.

The highest seven-day positivity rate for the week ending March 25, the latest date for which numbers were available, was 8.3 percent in the Dorchester ZIP codes of 02122 and 02124, which include Fields Corner, Codman Square, and Ashmont, according to the city’s website. That was up from 6.4 percent for the week ending March 21.

The state’s overall positivity rate was 2.49 percent, officials reported Thursday.

“There’s so much talk about the vaccine, and it’s providing a lot of hope for sure,” McLaughlin said. But as of now, only about 18 percent of Boston residents are vaccinated. “We all need to continue to take precautions, to protect ourselves and to protect each other,” she said.

Dr. Renee Crichlow, chief medical officer at the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, said that neighborhood has been hit hard because many residents are essential workers who haven’t been able to work from home, who take mass transit to work, and who return home at night to close quarters and multigenerational households.

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“We know our community’s at risk,” Crichlow said. “We want to make sure our community knows that Codman Square is there for them.”

She noted that positivity rates in the area reached even higher levels during the surge that began last fall and peaked early this year, but she said the current rates are a “warning.” If the numbers keep climbing, policies will need to be reexamined at the local, state, and national level, she said.

Baker, who toured a vaccination site at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, said the state will ramp up its vaccine outreach to some of its hardest-hit communities, opening mobile vaccine units starting next week in Chelsea, Revere, Boston, Fall River, and New Bedford. The governor said there would be up to 500 vaccines available per day in each community in city parks, parking lots, and other public places.

Chelsea was among several cities that had initially been promised much less aid in the federal relief bill than wealthier and whiter cities nearby. After an outcry from local activists and elected officials, Baker promised to direct an additional $100 million to Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Methuen.

“We’re committed to ensuring that communities like Chelsea get the support that they need so that people here get vaccinated,” Baker said Thursday at the clinic, which is run by La Colaborativa and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.

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Baker has faced criticism for the unequal vaccine rollout across the state so far. The vast majority of residents who have received at least one dose are white, at 72 percent; 5 percent are Black; and 5 percent are Hispanic, according to the latest state figures.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that starting next week, 200 bilingual community organizers will fan out across Chelsea and other impacted communities to educate residents about the vaccine.

“It’s like a political campaign, except it’s vaccine canvassing,” Sudders said.

At La Colaborativa, residents eager for a shot waited in line as the governor spoke.

“I came because I didn’t want to die,” Ana Estella Gonzales de Garcia, 62, said in Spanish.

She said she had been slightly nervous about how the vaccine would affect her, but was looking forward to living with “less fear.” As Baker toured the clinic, Gonzales de Garcia waited the requisite 15 minutes after her shot, clutching an Easter egg donated by the White House for vaccine recipients.

On Monday, Massachusetts residents 55 and older, as well as people with one of the listed health conditions, will become eligible to make vaccine appointments. By April 19, all residents 16 and older will be eligible.

Gladys Vega, the executive director of La Colaborativa, urged young people to choose to be vaccinated when they can.

“As we’ve been doing door knocking, that has been the biggest challenge: convincing individuals that are 35 and under. They don’t believe in the vaccination,” Vega said.

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Meanwhile, another set of numbers released Thursday showed cause for concern.

The state listed a total of 55 communities now considered high risk for the spread of COVID-19, an increase from 32 last week. The state releases a map on a weekly basis that uses case counts to show which communities are at high, moderate, and low risk.

Among the communities added to the high risk list were Brockton, Canton, Framingham, Milford, Nantucket, Peabody, Raynham, and Saugus.

Elsewhere in the state, some residents were changing plans ahead of the holiday weekend. The St. Patrick parish in Stoneham announced it would not hold in-person Masses on Easter Sunday, as the number of staff members and clergy testing positive for COVID-19 continued to climb.

“I do not make this decision lightly as it comes during the most sacred and meaningful time in the church’s calendar, Easter,” the Rev. Mario J. Orrigo wrote in a note to the community. “Yet, as we consider how this sacrifice disrupts the plans all of us have made, I am struck by how it can help so many.”

Travis Andersen and Amanda Kaufman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com. Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.