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The Checkup: More communities get 'red' map treatment, signaling virus risk

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With this daily feature, The Eagle runs down breaking local developments in the coronavirus crisis.

NEW MAP TWEAKED: Two more Western Massachusetts communities have been added to the red category under the state's new color-coded accounting for COVID-19 infection and transmission: Granby and Holyoke.

In all, seven municipalities were added Wednesday to the list of communities coded red, meaning they had an average of more than eight daily cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. The others are Fall River, Hull, Lawrence, Saugus and Salem.

The new map debuted Tuesday. On that day, Gov. Charlie Baker said four cities — Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and Revere — fell into the worst category, red, based on local public health metrics.

Thirty-three municipalities fell into the higher-risk yellow or red categories when Baker first announced the rankings. In Wednesday's report, that number was up to 46. the DPH plans to update the assessments each Wednesday.

Pittsfield remained colored green, indicating an average daily case rate of less than four — specifically 1.9 in the new assessment — per 100,000 over the past 14 days. Pittsfield has reported 12 new cases over the past two weeks.

All other Berkshire communities were listed as white, indicating fewer than five cases total over the same period.

What does this all matter? State education officials have released guidance on how schools are expected to reopen — on an in-person, remote or hybrid model — based on their community's color designation. The State House News Service reports that Baker has said municipalities assigned red or yellow will be offered help with testing, contact tracing, gathering-size enforcement and public awareness campaigns.

BAD DAY OVERALL: The U.S. saw the most COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Wednesday since mid-May: nearly 1,500.

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THE NUMBERS: The state Department of Public Health said 21 new deaths were reported in Massachusetts, pushing the statewide total to 8,568. The number of deaths including those listed as probably caused by COVID-19 is 8,790.

The number of confirmed cases rose 319 to 113,517.

The DPH is no longer listing daily deaths by community. Those figures are now released on Wednesdays and cover the week before.

As of Thursday, 24,552 cases have been confirmed among residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In all, 377 facilities have had at least one confirmed case and have seen 5,621 deaths linked to COVID-19, an increase of 19 over Wednesday's data.

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LEADING INDICATORS: The state Department of Public Health provides the following statistics daily as indicators in the fight against coronavirus infection. Each provides a number and then — in a new reporting format — a change in either the count or "lowest observed value." (Previously, the DPH compared all figures to April 15 data.) Thursday's figures:

- Seven-day weighted average of positive test rate: 1.5, unchanged.

- Three-day average of number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals: 403, up 12 percent.

- Number of hospitals using surge capacity to care: 5, up 5 from lowest.

- Three-day average of COVID-19 deaths: 13, up 19 percent.

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TWO WEEK LOOKBACK: The Eagle is also calculating results for a 14-day lookback on some leading indicators. As of Thursday, positive tests over a seven-day period showed a 28.26 percent drop from two weeks ago. The three-day average of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals represented a 7.94 percent increase. The three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 deaths fell 5 percent from two weeks ago.

NEW POLICY ON FACIAL COVERINGS: It may seem like overlap, but the state Public Health Council decided Wednesday to update a rule requiring most people in Massachusetts, except those under 2, or with medical conditions, to wear a mask in public when they cannot stay six feet from others.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring it. The DPH version allows business owners to bar entry to people not wearing masks. While Baker can unilaterally rescind his order, the council would have to vote to cancel its rule.

AT THE HOSPITALS: As of Thursday, both Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington had no COVID-19 cases.

The patient count for other western Massachusetts hospitals: Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, two cases, one in ICU; Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, no cases; Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, 30 cases, two in ICU; Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, six cases, two in ICU; Holyoke Hospital, three cases, one in ICU; Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, five cases, two in ICU.

The numbers include both confirmed and suspected cases.

Statewide, as of Thursday there were 401 people hospitalized, with the latest daily admission of 209 people. Of those hospitalized, 61 are in ICU and 26 are on ventilators.

To contribute news to The Checkup, please email lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or call 413-588-8341.


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