Massachusetts Reopens, But Too Early?

Many coronavirus restrictions were lifted on Monday in Massachusetts by Gov. Charlie Baker due to falling COVID cases and hospitalizations, but many experts feel the move is too hasty and could lead to a resurgence in the virus.

March 3, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Pandemic Shutdown

Micha Weber / Shutterstock

Indoor dining capacity limits were lifted on March 1 as the Bay State advanced in its coronavirus reopening plan. "With public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction, including drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations, and vaccination rates continuing to increase, the Baker-Polito Administration is taking steps to continue to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy," states their announcement on Feb. 25.

Also on Monday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned again about the direction the pandemic is taking as we approach spring.

"I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic," stated Walensky during the press briefing by the White House COVID-19 Response Team

"The latest CDC data continue to suggest that recent declines in cases have leveled off at a very high number. The most recent seven-day average of cases — approximately 67,200 — represents an increase of a little over 2 percent compared to the prior seven days..."

She then added a warning that appeared to take aim at the Bay State where she served as Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital before taking her current assignment.

"...With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19."

Public health experts in Massachusetts are concerned as well, reports the Associated Press on March 1 (source article).

“Opening up these restaurants is going to prolong the epidemic, and increase the number of Massachusetts residents that die,” Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology, told The Boston Globe.

Daily reported new cases in Massachusetts mirror what happened nationally, with a steep drop beginning in early January that plateaued last week, though at a 25% higher level than the national average.  The U.S. had a 7-day rolling average of 20 daily new reported cases per 100,000 residents on March 1, a +4% rise in new cases in the past week, according to The Washington Post coronavirus tracker. The 7-day average for Massachusetts was 25 per 100k, a 7% increase in new cases in the past week.

Whether the plateau transforms into a fourth surge is yet to be determined. Walensky pointed to the role played by coronavirus variants during the briefing.

"Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.  These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.  Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close."

A safer alternative

Also on Monday, Bostonians got word from their mayor that outdoor dining will return on April 1.

“Outdoor dining contributes to a vibrant, welcoming city, and we’ve seen the benefits outdooring has had on our neighborhoods: supporting local businesses, a safe and enjoyable experience for restaurant patrons, and an added resource for Boston’s small businesses during this challenging time,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh in an announcement

Hat tip to John King.

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