Baker: Positive COVID-19 test rates ‘have ticked up,’ 8 more communities to begin testing asymptomatic people

BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday said that positive COVID-19 test rates “have ticked up” in recent days before announcing that the state will begin testing asymptomatic people for coronavirus in eight additional hard-hit communities.

“More people are getting tested, including asymptomatic people, who may not know they are infected,” Baker said during a news conference at the State House. “It’s warm out and people, generally speaking, are probably in more contact with people now than they were in the months of April, May, and even June.”

There were nearly 500 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the Bay State over the weekend and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for the coronavirus is on the rise in certain areas, according to Baker.

“Positive test rates have ticked up,” Baker said. “We would prefer to see zero new cases of COVID but we know that that’s not going to be the case until we have a medical breakthrough.”

Health officials announced 210 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 273 more cases on Sunday, along with 31 more COVID-19 deaths between the two days.

The seven-day average of the positive test rate as of July 25 had climbed to 1.9 percent from 1.8 percent after holding steady at 1.7 percent for more than a week, Baker added.

In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, Baker said Agawam, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester will start testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19.

“There are communities that continue to have higher positive test rates. Some of those communities are also reporting a decrease in the number of tests being conducted,” Baker said. “That is one of the main reasons we are targeting them for this new testing effort.”

Baker noted that those areas make up 10 percent of the state’s population but 15 percent of positive tests in the past week. The positive test rate in the communities is at 2.3 percent, while the state average is 1.9 percent.

The “Stop the Spread” initiative was launched in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford in July.

Dr. David Rosman, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said in a tweet on Sunday that the state “should consider backing down a phase.”

When asked about a possible return to Phase 2 of his four-phase economic reopening plan, Baker said recent case clusters are the result of people not doing the right things, not the nature of what is open and what is not.

“Most of the time, if people do the rights things, we should be successful in containing this thing,” Baker said.

Baker highlighted a cluster of people who recently contracted COVD-19 at a party in Chatham. Many party-goers were not wearing masks.

He also spoke about a Bay State Healthcare worker who went to a “hot-spot” state and has been “lax” about wearing a mask since returning to Massachusetts. The worker has since infected some colleagues and patients, according to Baker.

Baker then announced that an investigation is underway after photos showed a crowded cruise ship in Boston Harbor over the weekend. Hundreds of people could be seen standing close together on the boat’s upper deck.

“We can’t say enough about how important it is until we have a vaccine, that everybody continues to play their role,” Baker said. “When we let our guard down, the virus will make gains.”

Baker said the public health data remains stable but he urged everyone to continue to wear a mask when around other people, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and frequently sanitize surfaces.

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