Baker: Mass. ramping up efforts to reverse ‘dangerously high’ COVID-19 transmission rates in 5 communities

BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced that Massachusetts will be ramping up its efforts to reverse “dangerously high” COVID-19 transmission rates in five communities.

“The Commonwealth as a whole has made a lot of progress in fighting COVID but a closer look at public health data shows us that a handful of communities have persistently seen higher case rates and transmission,” Baker said during a news conference at the State House.

Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn, and Revere have been reporting “dangerously high transmission rates,” and Baker warned that residents in those cities “cannot afford to gather in large groups.”

All of the communities are shaded in red on the Bay State’s coronavirus transmission rate map, which means they are all classified as “high-risk” areas.

“People being familiar with people they are familiar with plays a major role in the spread of COVID,” Baker said. “Everybody in communities that are shaded red on that map really need to go above and beyond to do their part to stop the spread in their community.”

To address the alarming transmission rates, Baker announced the “Stepped Up Enforcement and Intervention Initiative,” which includes a series of new tools aimed at ramping up enforcement education in public health.

The goal of the public messaging campaign is to ensure residents know they live in a high-risk community and reiterate the importance of wearing a mask and other best practices to stop the spread, according to Baker. Built around a message of, “You have the power to save a life,” the comprehensive campaign will encourage the use of masks and social distancing.

“The goal here is to make sure people understand what’s going in their community, where resources are available, and what they can do themselves to stop the spread,” Baker said.

The tools, among other things, include a new website, an advertising blitz on billboards and social media, downloadable materials in multiple languages, the utilization of multilingual field teams, phone and text communications, and outreach to local community groups, according to Baker.

“People have the power here to save a life,” Baker said. “Everybody needs to do their part.

Baker noted that free testing resources will remain in place in the communities and that the initiative will be expanded if needed.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the average statewide daily incidents rate is 4.2 cases per 100,000 people, while Chelsea is 29.4, Revere is 20.9, Lynn is 12.1, Everett is 15.9, and Lawrence is 14.9.

Case rates among people between 20 and 40 years of age are also on the rise, according to Sudders.

“The initiative brings even greater focus to the top five highest-risk communities with regular neighborhood-level assessments to determine factors contributing to trends,” Sudders explained. “It also strengthens the collaboration between local police and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.”

Sudders said a multilingual, multi-messaging campaign will launch Thursday in each community and run for up to eight weeks as the state assesses progress in hard-hit areas.

“The campaign’s advertising will run on hundreds of message boards, signs, billboards, and other channels,” Sudders added.

Field teams will also be active in 15 locations over Labor Day weekend to monitor for large gatherings.

Throughout September, the campaign will expand beyond the top five communities. 

Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, who joined Baker and Sudders, said his city saw an average of 12.6 new cases of COVID-19 each day in August.

“We are cities of essential employees and frontline workers, many of whom rely on public transportation to continue to report to work. Many of our residents live in densely-populated areas and multi-generational and multi-family homes, and we continue to see clusters of cases emerge at single addresses,” Arrigo said. “Half of our population is comprised of immigrants and communities of color. We know that this virus impacts Black and brown communities disproportionately and we are seeing those impacts in the city of Revere.”

Baker and Sudders urged all residents to keep wearing masks, washing their hands, practicing social distancing, and avoiding large crowds.

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