The state's recent uptick in confirmed COVID-19 infections is likely a result of Fourth of July gatherings, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday as he urged residents to continue wearing masks in certain indoor situations and seek out vaccination if they have not done so.
Asked if he was concerned by an increase in new case rates observed this week, Baker cautioned that the Delta variant spreading across the country is "very, very contagious." He said infectious disease specialists he spoke to "think this uptick is absolutely a function of the Fourth of July," likening it to a winter surge that followed Thanksgiving last year.
"Our spike is very small compared to the spike we've seen in other parts of the country, and we do have a much higher vaccination rate, which I believe will be very helpful, but I definitely think the Fourth of July weekend was a real issue for the same reason that sort of informal behavior generally has always been for quite a while a bigger deal with respect to spread," Baker said.
Most COVID-19 metrics remain close to record lows, but new cases and hospitalizations have started to trend upward again. The Department of Public Health counted 989 newly confirmed cases between July 8 and July 14, more in one week than it tracked in the two-week span ending July 6.
Baker declined to identify a specific infection threshold at which he would become more concerned, saying that the health outlook is based on "a combination of factors."
About 81.5% of the Massachusetts population ages 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Thursday, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data. Baker said it remains "critically important" for anyone in Massachusetts who has not yet been vaccinated to get immunized, calling it "the greatest and most powerful tool you can use to protect yourself and your family against the Delta variant and whatever other variant may come as a result of some of the COVID outbreaks in other parts of the world."
While public and private events have started to resume in earnest a month after Baker lifted the state of emergency, the governor on Thursday urged residents to "continue to be cautious."
"In many ways, when you're dealing with close quarters and indoors and you don't know or have the ability to determine if people are vaccinated are not, masks will continue to be an important part of keeping people safe," Baker said.