MA Health Officials On Guard As Coronavirus Case Count Creeps Up

MASSACHUSETTS —After weeks of steady declines in coronavirus cases, Massachusetts has seen an increase in recent days, recording 515 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Saturday and prompting state health officials to acknowledge the numbers are heading in the wrong direction.

Some of the increase can be attributed to comprehensive testing at colleges and universities in Massachusetts, most of which welcomed students back late last month, Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center, said in a statement. But, with the state set to ease some restrictions on restaurants on Monday, Mazzola said officials are closely watching town-by-town case counts.

Also on Patch: MA Reports 515 New Coronavirus Cases, 18 Deaths

While Gov. Baker on Wednesday announced eased restaurant restrictions in the state that include increasing the maximum at a table from six to 10 people, and allowing bar seating for customers ordering food, some towns and cities — including Boston — are opting to keep the tighter restrictions in place.

Worcester, one of 15 red high-risk communities in the state for coronavirus, will stay at the current seating threshold of six people per table in an effort to push cases down. And in Salem, the board of health will vote Tuesday on whether to keep the current restrictions in place. Officials are worried about Halloween, which draws thousands of visitors to the Witch City each October, and a recent history of high coronavirus test rates.

Salem officials also acknowledged Saturday that students at Salem State University are presenting concerns as the city tries to keep its coronavirus case count in check. In a joint statement, Mayor Kim Driscoll and Salem State President John Keenan reported an off-campus party Friday where 50 students gathered, violating restrictions on social distancing and gathering sizes.

North Andover officials, meanwhile, say 65 of the town’s 76 coronavirus cases stem from an outbreak at Merrimack College. The college reported a 17-case outbreak Tuesday and sent all residents of the dormitory into quarantine. Testing of those residents on their way into quarantine revealed another 47 cases, the college reported Thursday night.

Other cities are tightening rules to prevent further spread of the virus. Beginning Oct. 2, Cambridge will require anyone over age 2 to wear a mask in public at all times, including outdoors. Residents and visitors could face a $300 fine for disobeying the rule.

Samuel Scarpino, a Northeastern University epidemiologist, told the Boston Globe he expects case counts to continue to increase as the state eases up on restaurant dining restrictions. The Centers for Disease Control said earlier this month that restaurant dining is “the highest consistent risk factor” for transmitting the virus.

“Overall, I’d say that we are seeing a number of really concerning trends, and the governor’s decisions to continue relaxing measures at bars and restaurants is only likely to make things worse,” Scarpino told the newspaper.

Dave Copeland writes for Patch and can be reached at or by calling 617-433-7851. Follow him on Twitter (@CopeWrites) and Facebook (/copewrites).

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