Half of Mass. is in the red for the spread of COVID, according to the CDC

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“The risk of exposure is quite high.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released “elevated” community COVID levels for half of Massachusetts counties this week as cases and hospitalizations rise.

Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Worcester, Franklin and Berkshire counties are all in the red, or at a “high” community level, according to a CDC map updated Thursday. Of the other seven counties in the state, only Bristol County was listed as having a “low” community level while the others are at the “medium” level.

Jonathan Levy, chair of Boston University’s environmental health department, said Massachusetts exceeded CDC thresholds for hospital admission rates this week, prompting the agency to raise levels at the county scale.

“We definitely see cases continuing to climb,” Levy told Boston.com. “Hospitalizations are up and sewage data, after dropping slightly, is going up again, although it’s a bit wobbly in some places. So we are definitely not on a downward slope yet.

Community levels aim to help prevent strain on the healthcare system by providing communities and individuals with contextualized virus risk to help them make decisions.

The CDC combines three metrics to determine levels: new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past 7 days; the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients; and new cases per 100,000 population over the past week, according to the agency.

“We’re seeing a sizable, but somewhat calm surge right now in Massachusetts, which means the risk of exposure is quite high,” Levy said.

COVID community levels, as reported by the CDC. – CDC

Indeed, the presence of COVID RNA is increasing again in wastewater collected around Boston and surrounding suburbs by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Although levels of the virus in sewage – which helped predict surges during the pandemic – are not at the peaks seen during winter, there appears to be an increasing presence even after levels rise and dropped in April.

On Thursday, the state Department of Public Health reported 4,376 new cases of COVID — the highest number of cases reported in a single day since Feb. 3.

Boston’s COVID test positivity rate, recorded over a seven-day rolling average, reached 9.6% — well above the city’s 5% threshold, according to data from the Boston Public Health Commission.

The number of positive tests, measured over a seven-day average, was also above the threshold of 339.7 cases at 401.6 per day. Hospitalizations, however, were below the threshold set by the city, with 88% of intensive care beds occupied.

In accordance with CDC guidelines for “high” community level areas, the BPHC on Friday informed residents to wear a mask in indoor public places, test for COVID-19, get vaccinated and boosted.

According to the CDC, people living in “high” level areas should wear a “well-fitting” mask when indoors in public, regardless of their vaccination status. The agency also advises people to “maintain improved ventilation in indoor spaces where possible”.

People who are immunocompromised or at high risk for serious illness should wear a mask or respirator that provides stronger protection and should consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities, among other advice, according to the CDC.

At the broader community level, the CDC also recommends that cities and towns issue “context-specific” guidelines to help prevent the spread of the virus, as one of many steps officials could take.

“N95 masks work wonders and can reduce your risk of exposure,” Levy said. “But if you are in a poorly ventilated indoor environment and those around you are not wearing a mask at all, it may not be enough to protect you completely and there are certainly people, like children, who cannot wear a mask. of N95 masks all. daytime. So, you know, we again…we have to think about everyone in our community and think about who can do individual risk assessments and act on them and who can’t.

While the BA.2 omicron variant has for some time been suspected of being the determining factor in new cases, a related variant known as BA.2.12.1 is even more transmissible than its rapidly evolving relative. Research has shown that both variants are present in New England.

With the prevalence and availability of home COVID testing, Levy said many new cases are likely being overlooked in official data reports. He estimated that Massachusetts is likely experiencing “about three and a half times the number of cases” than the total number of cases reported by authorities.

Levy is particularly concerned about the impact of the latest trends on those most vulnerable to serious illness.

“Obviously a lot of people are making their personal decisions about what they are and aren’t willing to do given the high case rates,” Levy said. “I think we have to keep a focus on those who don’t have those kinds of choices or don’t have the same kinds of protections.”

Levy pointed out that there are still many people who have not received a booster shot, despite being eligible for the extra doses.

“Even among those who are over 75, there is a good fraction who have not even received a first reminder,” he said. “It is a little disconcerting that the population with the highest growth in the rate of cases in recent weeks is the over 80s.

Levy said it was important that the CDC’s recommendations be strengthened.

Public health and elected officials will have to make decisions on what happens next, he said.

“It’s a complex time,” Levy said. “People are tired of mandates, but assuming everyone has the data and the information and the ability to do complex individual risk assessments and has no constraints on their day-to-day activity is naïve and isn’t going to really protect those that don’t have all the layers of protection in place.

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