Massachusetts COVID cases nearly four times higher this September than last

But hospitalizations, death rates down

BOSTON — In September 2020, we had masks and social distancing and little else to combat Covid-19, as the vaccines in use today were still in clinical trials.

It turns out, those non-pharmaceutical interventions were pretty powerful in keeping case numbers down in Massachusetts -- at least when compared with THIS September.

According to the Department of Public Health, Massachusetts saw more than 45,000 new infections in September 2021. One year earlier, in September 2020, the total Covid case count for the month was 12,151.

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious disease at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, calls the nearly four-fold increase, year-to-year, disappointing.

“I think it really reflects the surge that we saw around summertime when rules around masks were relaxed,” Kuritzkes said. “They were intended for vaccinated people. But everybody took advantage of those relaxed rules and that led to a big bump in cases.”

That bump began in the weeks following the July 4th holiday -- and while unmasking may have triggered the surge, it was the rise of the Delta variant that helped propel daily cases to numbers not seen since the winter.

And there were other factors.

“You got a lot of kids getting sick that aren’t vaccinated,” said Massachusetts resident Alisa Billings. “And there’s still a lot of people that aren’t vaccinated. That’s why it’s still around.”

Both things are true.

However, a significant number of vaccinated people are also becoming infected, though Kuritzkes said the proportion is not alarming, given the high immunization rate in Massachusetts. And that’s having an effect on HOW sick the infected are becoming.

Compared with September 2020, hospitalization rates for Covid have fallen from 1.53 percent to 1.35 percent this September. But the most dramatic change is in the death rate, year-to-year. Last September, Covid death rates were running at about 3.74 percent compared with 0.72 percent this September.

Kuritzkes said this reflects, first of all, that it’s primarily younger people now getting Covid.

“Second, those spillover cases happening in vaccinated people -- those people are protected against hospitalization and dying from Covid,” he said.

The fact there are “spillover” cases (also known as “breakthroughs”) has kept some Massachusetts residents on guard -- even this deep into the pandemic.

“I’m not out like I used to be,” said Linda Cross, donning a mask, as she was about to enter a grocery store. “I’m still careful. But you gotta live your life, too. So it’s a fine line that we’re all crossing right now.

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