The latest weekly COVID report from the state shows 62 cities and towns in the high-risk "red zone." A month ago, there were nearly twice as many on the map. But that doesn’t mean things are better now. In fact, they’re worse.
The apparent reduction in risk is the result of a change three weeks ago in the metric the state uses to determine what communities are considered high risk.
The state's new plan says if a city or town stays out of the red for three weeks in a row, they can choose to move into the next step of reopening. And since Thursday's weekly report was the third one using the new metric, 80 cities and towns that were considered high-risk a month ago now qualify to move to that next step of reopening. As COVID-19 cases are spiking across the state, that means those cities and towns could choose to allow greater numbers of people to be in places like performance venues, gyms, museums and libraries.
Instead of having a single formula, the new metric breaks cities and towns into three groups by size. There are different thresholds for each group — including the percentage of COVID tests that come back positive.
"It's misleading," said Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. "It gives the message to community leaders and community residents that things are getting better when the numbers tell us that they are getting worse."
Baker says he expects what he calls these more "nuanced" metrics to enable more school districts to bring kids back to classrooms. Some educators are pushing back.
"It isn't helpful to abruptly and drastically change the metrics and then on top of that, apply pressure to locals to change the decisions that they made," said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association. "Because these local decisions have been made with great consideration, including the teachers. And now schools have to throw everything to the wind to meet the governor's expectations."
"You're always going to have a recalibration whenever you change metrics," said Dr. Mary Beth Miotto, vice president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Like the governor, she and her organization would like to see more schools opening up. Miotto says this is actually a better way of looking at what's really happening in the state.
"We were more conservative, and sometimes people think that's more reassuring, but it ties our hands in ways that sometimes doesn't allow us to do the right thing," she said. The new metrics are "more nuanced data, it's fuller data, more textured than what we had."