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COVID-19 cases reach nine-month high in Massachusetts

Sarah DiPerri, RN draws up a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 booster at Park Avenue Health Center on Nov. 9.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

State officials on Thursday reported a nine-month high in new COVID-19 infections and a record increase in cases among public school students and staff, as cases rose across New England and experts voiced concern about a possible holiday season surge.

The Department of Public Health reported 3,196 new confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest single-day count in Massachusetts since Feb. 6, when the state reported 3,378 confirmed cases. Massachusetts has seen rising COVID-19 cases in recent days.

State education leaders on Thursday also reported 3,257 new cases among public school students and 558 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday, a record high for a single week.

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In Boston Public Schools, there were 124 cases reported in weekly data released Thursday, down from 146 last week.

There was one new case reported among students from the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, where students moved to remote learning after an outbreak infected dozens of students. At the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where 18 cases have been reported since late October, there were no new infections. And at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, where an outbreak of about two dozen infections was reported, there were three new cases in the past week.

Asked how Boston Public Schools is responding to the threat as cases rise statewide, a spokesman provided a detailed list of health and safety protocols that schools are following and said School Department officials “talk daily with the Boston Public Health Commission and review each and every case with them.”

“This is a partnership and we are working together with students, families, and staff to follow the guidelines and keep each other safe and we all have a role to play in contributing to the city’s public health,” said the spokesman, Jonathan Palumbo, in an e-mail.

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Asked how Governor Charlie Baker is responding to the rising cases, a spokesman for Baker pointed to the governor’s comments Thursday encouraging state residents to get booster shots now that they are available to all vaccinated people 18 and over.

“We’ve talked to both the health care community and a lot of the retail outlets that are associated with both our traditional programs and a lot of the regional collaboratives which are still operating, and they’ve basically said – we’ve already done almost a million booster shots, and they all said they thought they could handle it,” Baker said, according to a transcript.

“Remember, this is for anybody over the age of 18, who’s out six months on their Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or out two months on their J&J vaccine,” Baker said, encouraging those who are eligible to “sign up and get it.”

The office of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Boston Medical Center epidemiologist said Thursday that cases were expected to increase as temperatures dropped and people spent more time indoors, but she has concerns about upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations.

“This is the week right before … a national holiday where people traditionally gather together with their families and loved ones in indoor spaces,” said Dr. Cassandra Pierre, the associate hospital epidemiologist and director of public health programs at BMC. “That will be, unfortunately, a setup for the perpetuation of this … increase in cases that we’re seeing.”

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Pierre is concerned “for those who are unvaccinated, for those who will unfortunately bear the brunt of severe complications of COVID-19,” she said. Some vaccinated people will become infected with breakthrough cases, she said, but “those who are fully vaccinated will largely be spared from severe complications.”

Her greatest worry is for children who are unvaccinated, both those under 5 who aren’t yet eligible and older children whose parents haven’t had them vaccinated.

“We have certainly at our hospital, unfortunately, seen a lower uptake than expected in vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds, as of yet,” she said. “Parents still have concerns about the necessity and safety of vaccination in this age group, and we really desperately need to get out information about the fact that vaccinations are safe, effective, and necessary for children — especially given the numbers that we’re seeing.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.