New rules take effect today in Massachusetts as efforts continue to stop an uptick in coronavirus cases.
The size limit for outdoor gatherings in Massachusetts is now 50 – down from 100 people. For the first time it applies to both public and private property.
Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that he’s given state and local police jurisdiction to enforce the crowd limits. Violators could be fined or hit with cease and desist orders.
As the number of COVID-19 cases has creeped steadily higher in the state since mid-July, Baker has pointed to outbreaks linked to large parties and unsanctioned events including a football camp.
Dr. Andrew Artenstein, Chief Physician Executive at Baystate Health and an infectious disease specialist, said reducing gatherings reduces risk.
" With a positivity rate in the 2 percent range, two out of 100 people in that room are likely going to be infected at least, depending on who the 100 people are," said Artenstein.
The maximum number of people allowed for indoor gatherings remains at 25. But a new requirement is that face coverings must be used where more than 10 people from different households are together.
Baker also hit pause on the state’s multi-phase reopening. It means that indoor live music and performance venues won’t be returning anytime soon. Neither will “close contact” activities including roller skating and laser tag.
Massachusetts is at a key juncture in its fight to control the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Robert Roose, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.
"We know with increases in interstate travel, larger gatherings, a pending return to school at many different age groups in different areas, and incomplete community adherance to masking and physical distancing we are almost gauranteed to see an uptick a some point in the future," said Roose.
The state’s seven-day average positive test rate – a closely watched metric – has been hovering around 2 percent. Western Massachusetts appears to be doing better. The seven-day average positive test rate reported by Baystate Health is 1.4 percent.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Baystate Medical Center has increased almost daily since mid-July. But few of the patients have had to go to an intensive care bed.
There were 84 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the city of Springfield in the last two weeks. On just two days, the number of new cases reached double-digits.
A state program that offered free COVID-19 testing in 17 communities where testing was declining and positive test rates increasing is being extended until September 12th. The initiative was scheduled to end this week.
Springfield is one of the 17 communities where the testing is available. Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the additional testing capacity will help gauge the penetration of the virus in the city.
"Contract tracing is still very important,' said Caulton-Harris as she appealed to people to provide the information requested if they are called by the local health department.
The Baker administration is also creating a multi-agency team to ramp up enforcement of COVID-19 rules and regulations in communities where health data shows an elevated risk of an outbreak. In a press release, the administration said parks, playgrounds, businesses, and other locations suspected of contributing to the spread of the virus in the higher risk communities could be shut down.