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Officials urge masking as Covid cases rise

New variant driving increased infections, hospitalizations

Anna Lamb

On Friday, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) sent an advisory to local media highlighting new data that shows a nearly 40% increase in cases last week and an uptick in hospitalizations with the virus.

According to the BPHC, Boston hospitals are averaging 151 new COVID-19-related admissions per day, up 24.6% over the past week.

“Cases are increasing, as are hospitalizations. We are following our citywide trends closely, and we suggest that everyone follow recommended precautions to reduce risk,” Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, BPHC’s executive director, said Friday.

Ojikutu said that residents should be wearing masks in indoor crowded settings like public transportation; testing; isolating if they’re sick; and staying up to date with their vaccinations to reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Additionally, she noted in her message last week that Bostonians should choose outdoor gatherings and activities as often as possible, and open windows and doors to ensure good indoor ventilation.

Earlier this month, the CDC elevated Suffolk County to medium community risk for COVID-19. With medium risk, defined as more than 10.0% positivity, those who are immunocompromised are advised to take extra precautions, and every member of the public is encouraged to test regularly.

As of last week, the positivity rate for Boston stood at just over 10%.

Officials blame the recent uptick in the city’s COVID-19 metrics on the highly infectious BA.5 variant, which now accounts for most COVID-19 cases across the United States. Emerging research has shown the variant to be resistant to immunity, and experts have been noting a high level of reinfections, especially in those who are unvaccinated.

In its advisory Friday, BPHC also noted that increased social activity and travel during the July 4 weekend could be a factor in this most recent spike.

In addition to new infection and hospitalization data, BPHC has also noted increased levels of COVID-19 virus in local wastewater — up 21% over the past week. Wastewater data, which can point to asymptomatic cases and predict actual infection rates, is being characterized as “relatively high” in Boston, with 728 RNA copies of COVID-19 virus per mL. BPHC says this is down from the 1,000+ particles observed in early June but is a concerning reversal from rates as low as 100 particles/mL in March.

As of last week, 73.9% of Boston residents are fully vaccinated and 55.9% of those fully vaccinated have received a booster — both of which BPHC recommends in order to avoid severe illness.

Booster doses are available for everyone ages 5 and older, and while the federal government works to approve second boosters for all adults, the additional shot is recommended for individuals ages 50 and older, as well as those who are 12 or older and moderately to severely immunocompromised.

In addition, antiviral treatments can be highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is offering free telehealth services for the oral antiviral Paxlovid. For more information, those interested can visit the state’s website.