Is there trouble on the road ahead? Key measures of the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts are edging up from the extremely low levels they had reached in recent weeks.
The uptick in the state figures comes as the Delta variant is driving a rapid and alarming increase in cases in much of the country. Los Angeles County on Thursday restored its indoor mask mandate, even for those who are vaccinated.
With Massachusetts a national leader in vaccinations that protect people from severe illness and death, experts and officials think the deadly virus may not hit as hard here this time, if cases accelerate.
But experts warn that the vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective and not enough shots have been administered. And they say the situation has to be watched closely. Some are even suggesting it’s time for everyone in Massachusetts to go back to wearing masks indoors.
“With cases now rising in so many other places nationwide, we need to monitor carefully any hint of increase in our own state. We can’t assume it’s over until it’s over,” Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School who is a former high-ranking federal and state health official, said in an e-mail.
Here’s a look at some of those key measures, from data provided as of Thursday evening by the Department of Public Health:
The recent case uptick
This alarming chart shows that the seven-day average of cases rose to 161 Thursday after bottoming out at a low of 52 on June 28.
Still, zoom out and look at case counts from the beginning of the pandemic — and you’ll be somewhat less alarmed. The uptick to a seven-day average of 161 is a far cry from the seven-day average of more than 6,100 seen during the height of the second surge early this year.
The situation is similar with hospitalizations, a measure that tends to lag behind case counts. The more recent chart shows a bump in hospitalizations after they bottomed out on July 4.
The longer-range chart, which shows hospitalizations from the beginning of the pandemic, illustrates that the recent increases are relatively small.
One measure showing little sign so far of coronavirus returning is the number of deaths, which tends to lag behind both cases and hospitalization. The seven-day average of daily deaths has dropped to less than 1 in recent days.
Only two deaths were reported in the six days ending Wednesday, an astounding development after a pandemic that has wracked the state for a year and a half. But four were reported on Thursday.
The MWRA wastewater data
Tests for the coronavirus in the wastewater at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island treatment plant are telling a similar story as case numbers.
The pilot program looks for SARS-CoV-2 RNA copies per milliliter of waste water. Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics, which conducts the testing, says it has found that the amount of virus in the waste water is correlated with newly diagnosed coronavirus cases four to 10 days later.
Click on the “Results from last 30 days” tab to see the recent upswing from rock bottom levels.
Governor Charlie Baker acknowledged Thursday that there had been “a significant increase on a very low number in cases,” saying he believed it was driven in part by people gathering during the Fourth of July holiday.
But he said hospitalization numbers had stayed “pretty flat” and “our death data continue to be very low.”
“Our spike is very small compared to the spike we’ve seen in other parts of the country,” he said.
He emphasized the importance of people getting vaccinated, saying the shots are “the best and most powerful way people can protect themselves and their families and their friends and their co-workers. And people should, if they haven’t gotten vaccinated, they should talk to their provider and try and find a way to get it done.”
Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.