Soaring COVID infections have some thinking ‘masks’

State says no plans to impose widespread mandates

BOSTON — Bessie Payne is vaccinated and so it’s unlikely she will become seriously ill if infected with Covid-19. But that’s not keeping her from masking up when grocery shopping.

“I want to protect myself, No. 1,” she said, as she loaded Stop & Shop bags into her trunk. “And those around me, especially the elders.”

And Payne said this is an especially good time to be thinking about protection, given the direction the state’s Covid numbers have been going. After a quiescent late spring and early summer, a slow, steady and troubling rise in infections began -- culminating in an explosion of cases over the weekend.

Between Friday and Monday, the state Department of Public Health reported more than 1,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases. On Tuesday, the agency reported another 457. The seven-day average positivity rate now stands at 1.3%.

“I think it’s very scary, you know, for it to be going up,” Payne said.

Others are worried, too.

“I’m quite concerned,” said Dr. David Hamer, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center. “I suspect it may be due to widespread circulation of the Delta variant.”

That variant now accounts for 83% of all U.S. infections, according to the CDC.

“This is a much more readily transmissible virus,” Hamer said. “We’re starting to learn that it leads to higher concentration of virus in infected individuals, which facilitates transmission.”

Most of the infections have been in the unvaccinated, but not all of them.

“There are clearly breakthrough infections,” Hamer said. “It’s not clear that there are more with Delta yet -- although we’ve definitely seen them, at least across multiple universities in the greater Boston area.”

Hamer does worry that if the infection trend continues, fall could be tough.

“We may end up, If things really get bad, having to go back to indoor mask mandates in many public settings, including schools,” he said.

But Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is acting as the state’s chief executive while Gov. Charlie Baker is out of state, made clear a statewide mask mandate remains in the rearview -- for now.

“At this point we are totally focused on the vaccination program and getting more people vaccinated here in our Commonwealth,” Polito said.

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