BOSTON — With the holidays approaching and COVID-19 cases rising, Gov. Charlie Baker is urging families to limit gatherings and calling on young people to take the risk of spreading the virus more seriously.
The number of virus cases is rising again in Massachusetts, health officials say, reaching levels not seen since May and raising fears of a second wave of infections. More than 7,000 new cases were reported in the past week, according to state health officials, an average of more than 500 per day.
Baker said Tuesday he is concerned about the uptick, particularly with Halloween this weekend and Thanksgiving less than a month away.
“There’s just no way around it: The holidays have to look and feel different this year if we’re going to keep up the fight against COVID,” Baker said at a Tuesday briefing. “Gathering indoors for an extended period of time with family and friends is likely the worst possible scenario for spreading the virus.”
The governor attributes the rise in cases to gatherings of young people who aren’t wearing masks or social distancing. He cited new public health data showing the largest portion of new cases among the under-30 age group. Until recently, those 60 and older were driving most of the new infections.
“Our young people need to get serious about dealing with COVID,” Baker said. “We get the fact that for many young people they have mild symptoms or in some cases no symptoms at all, but their contact — indoors over an extended period of time — can create terrible circumstances for many of our most vulnerable.”
On Monday, the state had reported 1,025 new COVID-19 cases from 13,727 individuals tested, with an average daily positivity rate of about 6%, according to the Department of Public Health. Overall, the state has reported about 150,000 cases and more than 9,600 and deaths.
About 300 people a day under 30 have tested positive, according to heath officials, with about 38,000 in that age group diagnosed since the outbreak began in March.
As of last Thursday, 77 communities — including Gloucester, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen — were classified as “high risk” for the spread of COVID-19.
Nationally, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are reaching record highs, driven in part by hot-spot states such as Colorado and Minnesota.
Younger people, while not immune, have been spared the worst effects of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 8.7 million and killed 226,000 people nationally.
But medical experts say they are at risk for spreading the disease to others, and their infections are often masked because they don’t show symptoms.
Health officials say the data suggests the state is headed for a second wave of infections, and the holidays are going to be a crucial test of the public’s ability to practice social distancing.
“I’m really worried about Thanksgiving,” said Dr. David Hamer, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine. “It’s a family holiday, when you’ll have potentially infected young people going home to visit parents and grandparents, which substantially increases the potential for intra-household transmission of the disease.”
Baker said people “need to stop” hosting large parties where guests aren’t wearing masks or keeping a safe distance, such as one in Marblehead last weekend that forced the town’s high school to shift to remote learning for two weeks.
Baker urged people to reconsider getting together for Thanksgiving and other holidays this year, especially if it puts vulnerable family members at risk.
“Every family in the commonwealth needs to think long and hard about the well-being of your loved ones before you make your plans,” Baker said. “If you have a loved one who is at high risk for COVID, it’s simply a bad idea to risk exposing them.”
State health officials are offering tips for a “safe and healthy” Thanksgiving: http://ow.ly/tjDH50C4f3Y
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org