The good news in the latest batch of community-level COVID-19 data is that the number of cities and towns in the top risk category did not roughly double for a third consecutive week. The bad news is that the count still increased, with the addition of many suburban and rural areas, and nearly a quarter of Massachusetts communities landed in the red.
Eighty-one municipalities fell into the state's highest danger level for the highly infectious virus in a Department of Public Health report published Friday, an increase from the 63 in last week's version.
Those cities and towns are color-coded red in DPH's system, and are the only communities that the Baker administration believes could deploy hybrid rather than fully in-person education models. They could also be forced to move one stage backwards in economic reopening, cutting into some allowable business capacities.
See more charts breaking down the state's coronavirus data here.
Twenty-five communities are new to the red category compared to last week: Bellingham, Berkley, Boxford, Chelmsford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Georgetown, Haverhill, Hopedale, Leicester, Lenox, Littleton, Mendon, Merrimac, Middleton, Millbury, Monsoon, Oak Bluffs, Paxton, Rutland, Upton, Wenham, West Boylston, Westminster and Whitman.
The rest of the cities and towns in the red have been at that level since at least last week.
Six others — Abington, Acushnet, Nantucket, Northbridge, Rockland and Townsend — that were in the highest risk level last week dropped down to lower designations in the latest report.
At the end of October, when the Baker administration still measured risk levels based solely on average new cases per 100,000 residents, 121 communities were in the red.
Officials changed the metrics starting in November, pushing up the cases per 100,000 rate to land in the red and adding positive test rate and population as factors. That switch cut the number of highest-risk communities to just 16 in the first report under the new system.