Nearly red cities, towns face public health challenge

BOSTON — It is one of more than a dozen Massachusetts communities not just yellow on the state’s COVID-19 incidence map - but highly yellow. Last week, Milford posted a two-week daily average of 7.8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. Communities get a red designation when the 14-day average daily case count goes above 8.

“The actual distinction between those numbers... between a 7.8 or a 7.9 or an 8... is not a real big difference,” said Matthew Fox, DSc, MPH, professor of epidemiology and global health at the Boston University School of Public Health. “In order to be able to monitor progress and to make decisions around when we need to start making changes, we need some sort of cut off. And the cut-offs that they’ve chosen for the green, yellow and red, you could think of them as somewhat arbitrary. But they are meaningful in the sense that we need these indicators to make decisions around when to act.”

And Fox said the time for communities to act is when they turn any shade of yellow.

“If you are moving into the yellow we know that you’re also moving towards the red, and we want to stay out of that red because that’s the point we have to make decisions around do we keep schools open, do we keep businesses open,” Fox said. “So if you’re heading up towards the yellow you’ve got to take action at that point.”

At this point, fully one-third of Massachusetts cities and towns are either colored yellow or red. And the Department of Public Health reports that as of last week, the state-wide average for cases per 100,000 stood at 7.3. Fox sees this as troubling.

“That’s a sign we are needing to take action,” he said. “If we get into the red zone, it’s almost a sign that we have waited too long to take action. One thing that we know is the earlier we take action the better off we are in the long run.”

Medway is another town in the ‘high yellow’ category. Its most recent two-week average was 7.6 cases per 100,000.

“I’m actually very surprised by this,” said resident Jordan Dunn. “I feel our town has been very responsible.”

Then again, Dunn notes more people are traveling and have gone back to work.

“Not just in Medway but in general you relax a little bit and then you have to pull back. Because you see that it is real. The virus is real. It’s very contagious.”

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