Updated 2:30 pm
On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced he was reducing outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people, indefinitely postponing step two of phase three, and other initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the state grapples with a slight increase in positive cases.
Baker said the state’s notable decline of hospitalizations, confirmed cases, positivity rate, and other health data indicators since May has caused some people to feel too lax about the seriousness of the virus.
The state’s seven day average number of positive COVID-19 cases — a key piece of data the state is following — is up .4 percent to 2.1 percent.
“We can not say this enough, COVID-19 is highly contagious and deadly for individuals who are older, who have pre existing conditions or comorbidity and in many cases for people of color,” Baker said. “In the past few weeks we have seen an uptick in some communities here in the commonwealth.”
Baker listed several parties, weddings, fishing charters, and unauthorized camps contributed to community spread.
Step two of phase three includes activities with greater potential impact for contact such as indoor theaters, roller skating, and laser tag.
Phase four, dubbed “new normal” and which comes once a vaccine or treatment is available, includes amusement parks, theme parks, gaming arcades, indoor or outdoor water parks, saunas, hot-tubs, and steam rooms at health clubs and other facilities, large-capacity venues used for group or spectator sports, entertainment, business, and cultural events.
The state is also establishing a COVID enforcement and intervention team to ramp up enforcement in high risk communities. Next week the state will begin publishing new town-by-town data that shows which communities in Massachusetts are at high risk.
The team will be mandated to increase enforcement and fines and assist local licensing boards if restaurants liquor licenses are suspended or cancelled due to failure to comply with required COVID-19 safety measures.
Previously, public health officials were the order enforcers, but Baker said he was authorizing state and local police officers to enforce orders and event hosts who violate them will be subject to fines.
Failure to follow the regulations could result in a fine of $50 for a first offense, up to $300 for a fourth, and subsequent, offenses.
“People need to understand big groups especially if people don’t distance and don’t wear face coverings and don’t do any of the things that have been talked about time and time again create in many cases spread,” Baker said. “Thats a big part of why we’re enhancing enforcement for local and state police and why we’re lowering our outdoor gathering limit.”
Cases on the Island are following the slight uptick trend seen across the state. While the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reported no new cases of COVID-19 Friday, it has reported three new cases this month alone after having no new cases in June and nine in July.
On Friday the total number of patients tested for the virus at the hospital since it began testing in March is 3,193. Of those, 40 have tested positive, 3,125 have tested negative, and 28 are pending results.
The hospital’s new case marks four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Martha’s Vineyard since the start of the month. The other case comes from the TestMV site operated by Island Health Care (IHC) at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School reported a new case Tuesday, bringing its total number of positives to 16. As of Thursday, TestMV has tested 7,818 patients, with 7,035 negatives, and 767 tests still pending. The TestMV site tests asymptomatic individuals.
Over the past two weeks, TestMV had a backlog of more than 1,000 tests pending results, but has since cut that number in half. According to the IHC website, increased capacity at the Quest lab in Marlborough along with innovations in pool testing, turnaround times for test results are now averaging five days.
Pool testing is when test samples are combined from several people and tested all at once to detect COVID-19. If a pooled test results in a negative, all samples can be presumed negative; if positive, all samples will need to be tested individually. This is helpful in an area such as Martha’s Vineyard, where the rate of positive tests is low.
“We have recently increased capacity through several lab innovations. These include the use of specimen pooling, which is now in place at three of our laboratories, and improvements in RNA specimen extraction. We have also expanded our lab referral network to include a half dozen laboratories to facilitate greater access to COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing,” a statement on IHC’s website from Quest reads. “We now have capacity to perform 150,000 COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests a day. We expect to expand capacity further to 185,000 tests per day by Labor Day, with further gains possible.”
While results will take longer for asymptomatic individuals, first responders and health care workers can continue to expect results within one to two days.
On Thursday, the town of Aquinnah reported it has conducted 75 tests, with 69 total negatives and six pending results.
The MVH, the town of Aquinnah, boards of health, and TestMV, the testing site at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, each report their own testing numbers. Those numbers are then all compiled by the boards of health. The actual number of cases can be difficult to count due to lag time and overlaps in testing each day.
Of all the Island’s positive cases, 49 are no longer symptomatic and have been released from isolation.
The boards of health have linked 23 of the confirmed cases to several cases among eight different household groups.
Of the 56 confirmed cases, 34 are female, and 22 are male. Of those, 15 of the cases are aged 50-59 years old, 13 are 20-29 years old, eight cases are 60-69 years old, six are 30-39 years old, eight are 20 years old or younger, three are 40-49, and three are 70 years or older.
The boards of health are also reporting on probable cases. The Island’s total number of presumed positives is 20. Of those 17 were positive antibody tests, and three were symptomatically positive.
Of the probable cases, 12 are female and eight are male. Of the 20 presumed positive cases, seven are aged 60-69, four are aged 50-59, three are aged 40-49, three are aged 20-29, two are under 20 years old, and one is over the age of 70.
At the state level Thursday, there were 162 new confirmed cases, bringing the state total to 111,533. There were 32 new deaths which brought the total number of deaths to 8,470. There have been 1,262,877 tests conducted across Massachusetts.
Updated to include more information on Island cases and Baker’s announcement. — Ed.