Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts’ communities are at the highest risk of coronavirus transmission, state health data released Thursday shows.
The town-by-town coronavirus risk data — which classifies communities’ risk level on a scale from red, the highest, to grey — puts a record 229 cities and towns in the red zone, up from 219 last week. That’s just shy of two-thirds of all the communities in Massachusetts. (See the full list of red zone communities below.)
And the Department of Public Health also released its weekly vaccine dashboard Thursday, which showed that more than 200,000 people in the Bay State have gotten their first vaccine shot and that another 32,000 have gotten both shots.
The data provides more insight on this winter’s coronavirus surge, which has reached unprecedented levels in Massachusetts, as well as the best tool to end the pandemic.
The vaccine rollout has been bumpy, as expected, but earlier Thursday, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin proposed that the state offer vaccines to people voting in person in local elections this spring as a way to speed the process up.
Massachusetts COVID Hot Spots
The following 229 communities are in the highest risk level as of Thursday: Abington, Acushnet, Adams, Agawam, Amesbury, Andover, Ashburnham, Ashland, Athol, Attleboro, Auburn, Avon, Ayer, Barnstable, Barre, Belchertown, Bellingham, Berkley, Berlin, Beverly, Billerica, Blackstone, Boston, Bourne, Boxford, Boylston, Braintree, Brewster, Bridgewater, Brimfield, Brockton, Brookfield, Burlington, Canton, Carver, Charlton, Chatham, Chelmsford, Chelsea, Cheshire, Chicopee, Clinton, Cohasset, Dalton, Danvers, Dartmouth, Dedham, Dennis, Dighton, Douglas, Dover, Dracut, Dudley, Duxbury, East Bridgewater, East Brookfield, East Longmeadow, Easthampton, Easton, Edgartown, Everett, Fairhaven, Fall River, Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Freetown, Gardner, Georgetown, Gloucester, Grafton, Granby, Great Barrington, Groveland, Hadley, Halifax, Hamilton, Hampden, Hanover, Hanson, Harwich, Hatfield, Haverhill, Hingham, Holbrook, Holden, Holliston, Holyoke, Hopedale, Hopkinton, Hudson, Hull, Ipswich, Kingston, Lakeville, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lee, Leicester, Leominster, Littleton, Longmeadow, Lowell, Ludlow, Lunenburg, Lynn, Lynnfield, Malden, Manchester, Mansfield, Marblehead, Marion, Marlborough, Marshfield, Mashpee, Mattapoisett, Maynard, Medford, Medway, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleborough, Middleton, Milford, Millbury, Millis, Millville, Milton, Monson, Nahant, Nantucket, New Bedford, Newbury, Norfolk, North Andover, North Attleborough, North Brookfield, North Reading, Northborough, Norton, Norwell, Norwood, Oak Bluffs, Orange, Orleans, Oxford, Palmer, Paxton, Peabody, Pembroke, Pepperell, Pittsfield, Plainville, Plymouth, Quincy, Randolph, Raynham, Reading, Rehoboth, Revere, Rochester, Rockland, Rockport, Rowley, Rutland, Salem, Salisbury, Sandwich, Saugus, Scituate, Seekonk, Sherborn, Shirley, Shrewsbury, Somerset, Somerville, South Hadley, Southampton, Southborough, Southbridge, Southwick, Spencer, Springfield, Sterling, Stoneham, Stoughton, Stow, Sturbridge, Sunderland, Sutton, Swampscott, Swansea, Taunton, Templeton, Tewksbury, Tisbury, Topsfield, Townsend, Tyngsborough, Upton, Uxbridge, Wakefield, Walpole, Waltham, Ware, Wareham, Warren, Webster, Wenham, West Boylston, West Bridgewater, West Brookfield, West Springfield, Westfield, Westford, Westminster, Westport, Westwood, Weymouth, Whitman, Wilbraham, Wilmington, Winchendon, Winthrop, Woburn, Worcester, Wrentham and Yarmouth.
That means 65% of all of Massachusetts’ 351 communities are in the red zone; the report said the state as a whole is in it as well.
Of those communities in red, 16 are newly in red on the list this week: Berlin, Brimfield, Brookfield, Dalton, Dover, Edgartown, Hatfield, Hopkinton, Marblehead, Medway, Millville, Northborough, Pittsfield, Sherborn, Somerville and Sunderland.
And six communities dropped out of red: Bolton, Melrose, Montague, Northbridge, Watertown and Wayland.
To qualify for the red, high-risk category under the new metrics, communities with populations under 10,000 must have more than 25 cases. For mid-size communities of between 10,000 and 50,000 people, they must have an average of more than 10 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of more than 5%. And for larger communities of greater than 50,000 people, they must have more than 10 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate of more than 4%.
Previously, the state used the number of cases detected on average each day over two weeks to determine if Massachusetts’ communities are at high risk for coronavirus transmission. The new list factors in population size and positive test rate.
Read this week’s full report here, with data on communities’ percent positivity, county- and state-level data and more.
The Department of Public Health is no longer including a map of the community-level risk in the weekly report. An official told NBC10 Boston that the map is no longer seen as being as helpful as it once was, now that coronavirus cases are being reported in most communities.
Mass. Vaccine Data
This week’s report from the Department of Public Health shows that 206,190 people have gotten their first coronavirus shots and that 32,984 have gotten their first and second shots.
The two coronavirus vaccines approved so far in the country’s fight against the pandemic, from Pfizer and Cambridge-based Moderna, both require that people receive two doses spaced out over three or four weeks.
The pace that vaccines are being administered has sped up — 39% more doses were administered in the week covered by Thursday’s report, Jan. 6-12, than the week before. But the increase is due to many more people getting the second dose of the vaccine, since 11% fewer people got the first dose week-over-week.
The number of vaccine doses coming to Massachusetts is also on the decline, the report shows. Just 18,450 doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were shipped to the state, 58% fewer than the week before.
Vaccines are the key to getting society back to normal, since they have been found to offer the greatest protection from serious complications in people who are infected with the virus. The widespread distribution of the vaccines will trigger the final phase in Massachusetts’ reopening plan, when restrictions will be lifted.
Vaccinations began in Massachusetts last month. See the Baker administration’s plan for rolling out the vaccine here.
Changes to Massachusetts’ Hot Spot Data
The weekly report has a history of somewhat abrupt changes.
At first, last week’s report said Massachusetts health officials were no longer releasing town-by-town coronavirus metrics on a weekly basis, since they are included in the daily, interactive coronavirus dashboard, visible here under the “city and town” tab. It shows communities’ positive test rate and overall testing rate, though not other metrics that were included in the old format.
“Data previously found in this report, including town-by-town cases and testing reporting, can now be found in the daily interactive dashboard,” a note in that week’s pared-down weekly report said. But a new version of the report was issued later that night brought back the data.
More major changes before that knocked the number of communities in the red zone from 121 to 16 as what was defined a high-risk community changed. Officials said the adjustment brought Massachusetts more in line with risk levels in other states.
However, the numbers grew again as the weeks passed, eventually rising to 190 communities in the red zone before the data switched to the interactive dashboard.
That week’s report also dropped the map that displayed the town-by-town coronavirus data. It showed where in the state communities were at high, moderate or low risk of transmission, but officials said it was no longer very informative.
In the weeks before that, officials added information on COVID-19 clusters, both on where major clusters have been identified — they’re listed in the report with an asterisk — and on trends among clusters.
The color-coded town-by-town data was introduced in August, and the Baker administration announced that the state would focus its strongest COVID-mitigation efforts on towns in the red category. Communities can only move to Step 2 of Phase 3 of Massachusetts’ reopening plan, announced in late September, if they are not consistently in the red.
Before the introduction of that data, the standard for measuring hot spots had been the positive COVID test rate over the preceding 14 days. The Department of Public Health’s weekly report still includes that information, along with other metrics like how many tests are being conducted locally and how many cases have been reported locally.
Some of Massachusetts’ smaller towns had taken issue with having their risk assessed based on cases per capita alone. They said that, when a town only had a few thousand people, an outbreak in just one household could send it into red under the criteria at the time: 8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.
More on Coronavirus in Massachusetts