Gov. Charlie Baker announced 33 cities and towns on Tuesday are considered "high risk" and "moderate risk" for coronavirus transmission, and vowed to dedicate more resources to help them.
The designations came after Baker's announcement last week that step 2 of the state's third phase of reopening would halt, and that the number of people allowed at an outdoor event would be cut in half, from 100 to 50.
Baker, along with state Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, unveiled a new map and ranking system to determine a community's risk level for spreading the virus. The designations are based on the average daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.
Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and Revere have the state's highest risk of transmission, Sudders said.
The system is color-coded like a traffic light: High risk communities, those that have over 8 cases per 100,000 people, are in red; moderate risk communities, which have 4 to 8 cases per 100,000 people, are in yellow; low risk communities with less than 4 cases per 100,000 people, are in green; and communities that see fewer than five cases in the previous two weeks are in white.
The Department of Public Health will report the risk level of all 351 communities in the commonwealth on the state COVID-19 dashboard every Wednesday, Sudders said. She urged people living in moderate- to high-risk communities to closely follow coronavirus safety precautions, including avoiding social gatherings, maintaining 6 feet of distance and wearing a face covering at all times.
"Masks work. Wear a face covering at all times when outside your home," Sudders said. "You should also consider wearing a face covering inside your home if an older individual or someone with a compromised medical condition is part of your immediate household."
The governor added that the communities marked as "high risk" and "moderate risk" will be targeted for increased enforcement of mask rules and restrictions on public and private gatherings. He said that while fines and citations should be a last resort for enforcing public health guidance, it's important that some measure be taken to reinforce the seriousness of following them.
"The idea here is not to be issuing big fines; it’s to make sure people are following guidance, or to send them home if they’re not," he said. "We’re not doing anyone any good if we let these folks continue to do these sorts of things, because it's clearly having a negative impact."
Communities designated as high risk and moderate risk will also receive state help for other measures, which might include accessing federal funding, increased testing and contact tracing, and coordinated public health messages.
In addition to the new risk-level designations, new COVID-19 safety rules took effect across the state on Tuesday. Baker said the rules are intended to help curb the virus' spread, which has flared up in certain Massachusetts communities over the last few weeks.
Baker has attributed many of the new COVID-19 cases to parties where coronavirus precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing were being ignored. The new rules are, in part, an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus in those social settings, he said.
On Tuesday, Baker repeated his entreaty for residents to avoid attending or hosting large gatherings.
"The virus doesn’t care about boundaries, and it certainly takes every opening any of us give it," he said. "We’ve seen the effects of too many people letting their guard down and simply relaxing get in the way of us moving forward.”
Massachusetts is also extending the availability of free coronavirus testing in 17 communities across the state to Sept. 12. And enforcement of travel rules has begun at Logan and Worcester airports, Baker said, via a special "travel ambassador" program.
While it's especially important for residents of moderate- to high-risk cities and towns to be vigilant about following coronavirus safety guidelines, Baker said everyone in the state should continue abiding by the rules. Although the vast majority of communities in the state continue to be at low risk for the virus and the overall positive test rate in the state has fallen below 2% again, Baker said the only way to maintain that status and move forward is to keep up COVID-19 precautions.
"COVID is not going away. Your actions, regardless of where you live, will determine whether and how this virus spreads," Baker said on Tuesday. "We can continue to reopen Massachusetts and get back to a new normal, but only if everyone brings their fight to this virus."
This article was originally published on August 11, 2020.