The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID community risk levels, which have been in the low or medium risk category for Massachusetts for months now, skyrocketed over the past week. More than half of the state is now in the high risk category, another sign that we might be in the middle of a surge fueled by the new XBB variant.
Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Franklin, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester counties are all now considered high risk, with only Berkshire, Essex, Hampden and Hampshire counties listed as low risk.
Within the last two months, tracking numbers from the CDC showed the XBB.1.5 variant has climbed to now make up more than 40% of cases in the U.S. But here in New England, XBB.1.5 accounts for a whopping 75% of all COVID-19 cases. Only three weeks ago, XBB.1.5 accounted for only 11% of COVID cases in the region.
“I never like when I see anything make a dramatic jump like we have seen with XBB,” Tufts Medical Center’s Dr. Shira Doron told NBC10 Boston this week. “This ascent is sharp and striking.”
“It does remind me of a year ago when omicron came in over a two-to-four week period and displaced everything,” Boston Medical Center’s Dr. David Hamer added. “This is sort of going that direction, but I think we need more data. Over the next two-to-four weeks we’ll see what happens.”
COVID cases rising in Massachusetts
Massachusetts health officials reported 10,075 new COVID-19 cases and 129 new deaths in the last week, with the new data released Thursday. That’s substantially higher than the previous week, when the state reported 8,327 new cases and 113 deaths.
The state’s seven-day average positivity rose to 13.39% Thursday, up dramatically from 9.58% last week.
The recent uptick in community spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts has led some school districts, including Boston, to return to mask advisories for students and staff in an attempt to keep cases from jumping any further, especially after the holiday break when people were gathering with family.
In an effort to keep flu and COVID cases down, some school districts have asked students to mask up after returning from holiday break. The move is temporary and is only a suggestion, not a requirement.
COVID risk levels in the other New England states
The picture remains mostly similar in the other southern New England states, with Connecticut and Rhode Island both experiencing elevated risk compared to where they had been in recent months. But in northern New England the risk level is not as high.
In Connecticut, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, Tolland and Windham counties are all high risk, with only Fairfield and New London considered medium risk.
Three of Rhode Island‘s five counties are listed as high risk, with only Bristol and Washington counties in the medium risk category.
Vermont‘s southernmost counties — Bennington and Windham — are in the high and medium risk categories, respectively, but the rest of the state is considered low risk.
All of Maine is in the low risk category.
In New Hampshire, six counties — Belknap, Carroll, Cheshire, Hillsborough, Merrimack and Rockingham — are considered medium risk, with the rest in the low risk category.
Residents in counties with high risk are urged to wear masks indoors in public and on public transportation, to stay up to date with vaccines and to get tested if they have symptoms, according to the CDC.
Residents in areas with medium risk are encouraged to wear a mask if they have symptoms, a positive test or exposure to someone with COVID-19. Anyone at high risk for severe illness should also consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions, the CDC says.