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Officials urge caution as COVID cases rise

Anna Lamb

Coronavirus cases are rising across several Massachusetts counties, including Suffolk, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data released this week.

State data shows a weekly average of 368.82 new cases per 100,000 residents, or 6.25% positivity — a level not seen since the end of January when cases spiked in the wake of the Omicron variant. Health officials have worried for weeks about the spread of Omicron variants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

Experts have also continued to monitor Suffolk County’s wastewater data, which has shown an increase in virus material after an initial dip over the last several months.

As a result of the new spike in cases, the CDC has elevated Suffolk County to a “high” community level and is urging residents to take precautions to protect their health.

The Boston Public Health Commission has endorsed the CDC’s message, writing on social media that Suffolk County residents should “wear a mask in public indoor spaces, test for COVID-19, especially if you are sick or were exposed, and get vaccinated & boosted.”

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told news media this week that experts are continuing to monitor the situation.

“We’re being vigilant. We’re watching the data. And we’re encouraging all Bostonians to take extra precautions to protect themselves, their families, and our community.”

In Boston, mask mandates have been dropped since March, and Ojikutu stated that city officials have no plans to reinstate them.

Online, concerned residents and health experts have shared their worries about a return to masking, or lack thereof, including Jonathan Levy, of Boston University’s School of Public Health. Levy, chair of the Environmental Health department, tweeted out to followers that the CDC data shows a concerning hospitalization threshold as it relates to rising cases, and a lack of enforcement for public health measures.

“When CDC came out with “Community Levels” and many criticized it for being too slow to respond, lots of people defended it as appropriate (given the goal to focus on health care capacity). Will those people continue to support it now that it calls for action?” Levy wrote, alluding to the recommendation of mask wearing.

In schools, students continue to mask up — a policy that Boston Public Health Commission officials declared would not be dropped until there were 10 or fewer daily cases per 100,000 residents.

With cases rising in adjacent counties, school officials in Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont are considering following suit.

There is hope that the rising case trend will follow that of Europe’s most recent spike, which fell after its immediate increase
back in March. Additionally, with warmer weather around the corner, public health officials see a possibility of decreased community spread from indoor interactions.

At the Duckling Day Parade over the weekend, Mayor Michelle Wu told reporters that her office will also continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.

“If you look back at historic data from pandemics in the past, often year three is when there’s a little bit of fatigue about living with these policies,” she said. “But the virus is still very much here.”

For those interested in getting tested or receiving a vaccination of booster, information on where to do so can be found on the Boston Public Health Commission website.