Half of the mass is in the red for the spread of COVID, the CDC says

COVID

“The risk of exposure is quite high.”

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

Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Worcester, Franklin and Berkshire counties are all in the red, or at a “high” community level, an updated CDC map shows Thursday. Of the other seven counties in the state, only Bristol County had a “low” community level, while the rest were at the “medium” level.

Jonathan Levy, chair of Boston University’s Department of Environmental Health, said Massachusetts exceeded CDC thresholds for hospital admission rates this week, prompting the agency to raise levels throughout the county.

“We’re certainly seeing cases continue to rise,” Levy told Boston.com. “Hospitalizations are growing and wastewater data, after a slight downward trend, is rising again, although in some places they are a bit unstable. So we are certainly not down yet.” .

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

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

“We’re seeing an appreciable, but a bit calm, wave happening right now in Massachusetts, and that means the risk of exposure is pretty high,” Levy said.

COVID community levels, according to the CDC. – CDC

In fact, the presence of COVID RNA is increasing once again in the wastewater sampled from around Boston and the surrounding suburbs by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Although the levels of the virus in the sewage, which have helped predict increases during the pandemic, are not at the heights observed during the winter, it seems that there is a growing presence even after the levels go down. increase and decrease 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.

The positivity rate of the COVID test in Boston, recorded on a seven-day moving average, reached 9.6 percent, well above the city’s 5 percent threshold, according to data from the Commission on Boston Public Health.

The number of positive tests, measured at an average of seven days, also exceeded the threshold of 339.7 cases to 401.6 per day. Hospitalizations, however, were below the city’s set threshold, with 88 percent of ICU beds occupied.

According to CDC guidelines for areas with a “high” community level, the BPHC on Friday advised residents wearing a mask in indoor public places, testing COVID-19 and getting vaccinated and reinforced.

According to the CDC, people living in “high-level” areas should wear a “proper” mask when indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status. The agency also advises people to “maintain improved ventilation in indoor spaces whenever 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 guidelines, the CDC says.

At the community-wide level, the CDC also recommends that cities and towns issue “configuration-specific” guidance to help prevent the spread of the virus, as one of several steps officials could take.

“N95 masks work wonderfully and can reduce the risk of exposure,” Levy said. “But if you’re in a poorly ventilated indoor environment and those around you don’t wear masks at all, they may not be enough to fully protect you, and there are certainly people, such as children who can’t wear N95 masks. So, bottom line is that we’re really looking forward to it all.

While the omicron variant BA.2 has long been suspected as the driving force behind the new cases, a related variant known as BA.2.12.1 is even more transmissible than its fast-moving relative. Research has shown that both variants are present in New England.

With the prevalence and availability of COVID testing at home, Levy said many new cases are likely to be left out of official data reports. He estimated that Massachusetts is probably experiencing “approximately three and a half times the number of cases” than the total number of cases reported by officials.

Levy is especially concerned about how the latest trends will affect people who are more vulnerable to serious illness.

“Obviously a lot of people are making their personal decisions about what it is and are not willing to do given the high case rates,” Levy said. “I think we need to keep a close eye on those who don’t have that kind of option or don’t have the same kind of protections.”

Levy noted that there are still many people who have not received booster injections from the vaccine, despite being eligible for additional doses.

“Even among those over 75, there is a good fraction who have not even received a first boost,” he said. “It’s a little disconcerting that the population with the highest growth in the case rate in recent weeks has been over 80 years old.”

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

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

“It’s a complex time,” Levy said. “People are tired of mandates, but to assume that everyone has the data and the information and the ability to do complex individual risk assessments and has no restrictions on their daily activities is naive and will not really protect those who do not. all layers of protection in place “.

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