Somerville announced today there'll be no health-club or theater openings there until at least Aug. 3, due to what Mayor Joe Curtatone says is a "modest" rise in new Covid-19 cases in the Boston area and because of problems with the state's contact-tracing system, which is supposed to help tamp down new cases by getting contacts of people who test positive to stay at home.
Most of Massachusetts went into phase 3 - which allows limited openings of more indoor facilities, such as health clubs, and relaxes standards for outdoor gatherings and some sports - last week. Boston joined phase 3 this week. Somerville had originally planned to join Boston, then postponed its plans for a week. But today, Curtatone said, in a statement:
We are just as eager as our businesses to restart this part of our economy, but the last thing we want is to move so quickly that we risk the kind of deadly surge and damaging reclosures we’re seeing in states that opened too quickly. While statewide case numbers have been holding fairly steady in Massachusetts as a whole, we’re seeing new case numbers start to tick up modestly in metro area counties. Couple this with growing concerns over the adequacy of the State’s contact tracing effort, which is essential to safe reopening, and the only prudent response is to press pause for the time being. We all know how small confirmed case increases can quickly become exponential with this virus, so we want to, at a minimum, see new 7-day and 14-day rolling averages ideally decreasing but holding steady at a minimum and evidence of promised contact tracing improvements before we take this next step. We are holding Somerville to a higher, safer standard.
According to the city:
The 14-day rolling averages in four metro Boston counties are rising. The averages in Middlesex (rising from 42 to 48), Suffolk (from 33 to 39), Norfolk (from 20 to 29), and Bristol (from 22 to 28) counties have all shown modest upticks in new cases according to the New York Times hotspot tracker as of July 16. Additionally, on July 10, the State opened additional testing locations in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford, citing that these communities "have continued to see a higher number of residents testing positive for COVID-19."
City officials add they are also concerned by problems with the state's touted contact-tracing system. Although Somerville has built its own system for contacting people who were in close contact with people who test positive for the virus, it doesn't have enough workers to handle a surge of new cases.
Our hope is that the 7- and 14-day averages over the next two weeks will show that cases are trending down. Our hope is that promised improvements to State contact tracing efforts will be effective. But if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks, we’ll be glad we delayed. What we do now will determine how safely we can reopen schools in the fall, whether businesses that struggled to reopen can avoid costly reclosures, and how many people get sick and how many die. These are serious times and we must take every step with the caution it deserves.