190 Massachusetts cities and towns at high risk for COVID-19 transmission as officials brace for new variant

The state’s three largest cities are among the record-breaking 190 communities that are now at high risk for coronavirus transmission as local officials brace for both a post-holiday surge in cases and a potentially more contagious strain of the virus.
Weekly community COVID count
Worcester Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh said leaders of the city’s two hospital systems, Saint Vincent and UMass Memorial Medical Center, have been saying for weeks “that they thought that a mutation has already occurred because of the transmissibility.”
“People that were following all the rules, the distancing, the mask wearing, the hand washing, the diligence about not having gatherings, they would come in and have a case of COVID and they’d be saying, ‘I did everything right, what’s going on?’” Hirsh said in a press conference.
Massachusetts is one of several states analyzing suspicious coronavirus samples for a new variant first discovered in the United Kingdom that has now been confirmed in California, Colorado and Florida.
Hirsh said the new variant appears to have “almost two times the transmissibility of the strain we were dealing with, so that’s a little scary.”
The seemingly more contagious strain comes as communities begin to see a post-Christmas spikes in cases. Worcester reported 335 new cases on Wednesday, its highest single-day tally yet.
A rising positivity rate landed Boston in the high-risk “red” zone for the first time since the Department of Public Health revamped its weekly metrics in November.
Boston’s average daily incidence rate of 54.9 cases per 100,000 residents during the two-week period ending Dec. 26 was actually lower than in the previous two weekly reports.
But its positivity rate cracked 4%, putting Boston above both of the red-zone thresholds for cities of more than 50,000 people: more than 10 average cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of at least 4%.
Boston’s seven-day positivity was higher, at 5.6% as of Christmas Day, according to a semi-weekly report Thursday from the city’s public health commission.
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The 190 high-risk cities and towns represent a slight rise from 188 red-zone communities last week and 187 the week prior.
“It could be a plateau before more cases,” Boston University infectious diseases specialist Dr. Davidson Hamer said.
Still, the number of high-risk communities is up sharply from just 16 when the state revamped its metrics in November.
“I’m a little worried that any potential surge in cases secondary to social gatherings, family gatherings during the holidays may be hard to tell because there’s a lot of disease being transmitted in Massachusetts right now,” Hamer said. “We’ll see over the next five to eight days.”
See the full list of high-risk cities and towns online at bostonherald.com.

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