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Uptick in COVID cases makes Salem and Saugus see red

Saugus is now considered a high-risk zone for COVID-19, according to a numbers report released by the state Wednesday.  

Previously pegged as a moderate-risk community, Saugus was one of 11 Massachusetts municipalities identified for the classification after it reported an average daily incidence rate of 9 cases per 100,000 people between July 29 and August 12.  

In particular, 36 new cases were reported in Saugus over that 14-day period, tying the town with Holyoke for the state’s fifth-highest daily average. 

“The Board of Health and the Saugus Health Department will be partnering with the state to work on a planned response (to the rise in cases),” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “They’ll be analyzing the data from the past couple weeks and develop specific strategies to combat the spread through additional enforcement and prevention measures.”

In order to be determined a high-risk — or “red” — zone, towns must report an average daily incidence rate of 8 cases per 100,000 people within a 14-day period. Neighboring North Shore communities of Lynn, Revere, and Salem, as well as Lawrence, Hull, Granby, Fall River, Everett, and Chelsea, have also been identified as “red” areas warranting state intervention. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state would begin releasing a weekly map identifying the infection rate status of all Massachusetts towns and cities, classifying each as being “high” (red), “moderate” (yellow), or “low” (green) risk. 

Communities with higher infection rates may see their playgrounds, parks, and even some businesses shut down or restricted if those locations are found to have contributed to new outbreaks. 

“Regardless of where your community sits, COVID is not going away,” Baker said during a press conference Tuesday. “Your actions, no matter where you live or work, will determine in many respects whether and how this virus spreads.”

Since March, Saugus has reported 616 cases of COVID-19, including 39 deaths. 

Although formal tracking data is not yet available, the town’s high infection rate may at least in part be due to its close proximity to more populated cities, as well as its busy commercial industry along Route 1, where businesses often see hundreds of patrons on any given day. 

“Saugus obviously has its challenges because we’re surrounded by communities that are red and that are more densely populated,” Crabtree said. “We’re also pretty transient in the sense that we have a lot of visitors here because of Route 1 retail and restaurants. That poses a unique challenge for Saugus because of the fluctuation in population during the day.”

He added that Saugus continues to take the safety of its residents seriously.

“We need to do whatever is necessary to keep ourselves, family members, neighbors, and community safe,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to speak with the lieutenant governor last night, and they’ve given us the full support of the state and their resources to assist us in coming up with strategies in our response to the numbers.” 

Selectwoman Debra Panetta said that regardless of the town’s classification, residents should continue to be careful when interacting with others. 

“Safety is of the utmost importance, and we all should be wearing masks when we go out into public places unless we hear otherwise,” she said. “We need to be diligent, not just for ourselves, but … for other people we come in contact with.”

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