Massachusetts reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalization rates in months on Wednesday, and specialists say it’s a grim reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
“It’s a reminder that COVID is far from gone,” said Dr. Paul Edward Sax, clinical director of the infectious disease clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “People who are unvaccinated [a significant minority] and people with underlying immune deficits remain at significant risk.”
He said some of the positive cases involve unvaccinated children, who have a much lower immunization rate than adults.
“We’ve been watching the case numbers and the hospitalizations closely, and this very closely parallels what we saw last year,” Sax said.
The Thanksgiving holiday likely contributed to the increase, Dr. David Hamer, a Boston University professor of global health and medicine, said Wednesday. “We saw this last year ... After each holiday there was an increase in cases.”
On Wednesday, the seven-day proportion of COVID tests that returned positive was 5.14 percent, a level not seen since last January.
“This is not good at all,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and codirector of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The positivity rate should be driven down by Thanksgiving testing, because low-risk people are getting tests to fly.”
He said the increase in cases, amplified by the holiday, may not be overly worrying given Massachusetts’ high vaccination rates. As of Wednesday, 70.7 percent of the population was fully vaccinated.
“However, the potential for transmission of Omicron should be a concern,” Hanage said. On Wednesday, the United States reported its first case of the new strain of the virus in a California resident who had traveled back from South Africa on Nov. 22. Another case was announced in Minnesota on Thursday in a vaccinated man who had recently traveled to New York City for an anime convention.
Scientists around the world are racing to understand whether the mutated version of the coronavirus is more dangerous and spreads more quickly.
Reactions to Massachusetts’ high numbers on Wednesday poured in online.
Massachusetts Covid cases, positivity rate, and now hospitalizations are going vertical, and we probably haven't had any Thanksgiving effect yet in the data. Not good.— John Ezekowitz (@JohnEzekowitz) December 2, 2021
Some people said they’d seen anecdotal evidence of a spike in cases in their own social circle.
Anecdotal signal is v high in my immediate circle, certainly higher than the reported pos test rate in MA. My theory is that since most of us are vaccinated, most cases here are mild, people aren't getting tested, not taking precautions, but still efficiently spreading the virus. https://t.co/HVJSiF22wS— Michael Gilman (@michael_gilman) December 2, 2021
Before the state released the latest numbers, the city of Chelsea instated an indoor mask mandate on Wednesday. The order goes into effect on Friday and will apply to all public spaces within private businesses as well as inside public buildings.