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‘Not good at all’: Spike in Massachusetts COVID-19 infections show pandemic isn’t over, experts say

On Wednesday, the seven-day proportion of COVID tests that returned positive was 5.14 percent, a level not seen since last January.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

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.

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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.

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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.

Some people said they’d seen anecdotal evidence of a spike in cases in their own social circle.

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.



Sahar Fatima can be reached at sahar.fatima@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima. Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.