BOSTON (AP) — Once a coronavirus hot spot, Massachusetts was seen as a model for infection control this summer as coronavirus cases and deaths dwindled. Now, experts are warning the state could be headed for a bleak winter as its cases climb once again and confirmed deaths surpass 10,000.
Amid growing calls for action, Republican Governor Charlie Baker recently tightened restrictions but resisted taking more drastic measures such as halting indoor dining. The governor insisted Massachusetts is better prepared than it was in the spring, but said if the trends continue it will only be a matter of time before the state’s hospitals are once again stressed under a flood of patients.
“We know how close we got to a completely overwhelmed health care system in the spring and we are not willing to go there again,” Infectious Disease Physician and Hospital Epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center Shira Doron.
Massachusetts hit 10,015 confirmed coronavirus deaths on Thursday, nearly nine months after the state’s initial case was detected. Confirmed cases topped 174,000 and the number of cities and towns designated as “high risk” nearly doubled over a two-week period last month.
In the United States (US), the pandemic killed over 240,000, but the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many COVID-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing. Massachusetts has the sixth-highest death toll in the US behind New York, Texas, California, New Jersey and Florida.
Experts are particularly concerned about data gathered from testing wastewater in the Boston area that shows a spike in the presence of coronavirus similar to that seen around April and May.
Young people are driving the rise in infections, officials said, unlike in the spring when nursing homes were being ravaged. While younger people are somewhat less likely to get seriously ill or die from the virus, experts said it is only a question of when it begins spreading again in the older and more vulnerable populations.
“We are about to go celebrate a holiday where huge portions of the country get on airplanes and get in cars, drive to their family’s house and sit inside all day around a meal,” Infectious Disease Specialist at Boston Medical Center Benjamin Linas said.
“And if we are going into that in an already surge type situation, then we really could see this kind of really big growth that we have not experienced before because we’re just pouring gas onto a fire,” Linas said.