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Lynn cases soar, first-time red for Peabody, Nahant

Lynn, already one of the state’s worst hot spots for COVID-19, took another turn for the worse Friday with news of 68 new cases reported by early afternoon.

Since last week, the number of new daily cases has surged in Lynn, with 40-plus cases reported on five of six weekdays over the past week, not including Friday’s spike. 

Nahant and Peabody are the latest area communities to receive the dubious distinction of being designated for the first time as high risk on the coronavirus risk assessment map, joining Saugus, Lynnfield, Lynn and Revere, which remained in the red for another week.

At least one community received good news with this week’s figures. After spending a week in the red zone, Swampscott went back up to yellow, signifying only a moderate risk.

There was also good news in Marblehead and Salem, both of which were designated as yellow.

Data released by the Department of Public Health Thursday revealed that the number of Peabody cases had risen 2.8 percent higher than the previous week at 13.1 cases per 100,000 residents. Over the last 14 days, there have been 102 new cases among the 4,286 Peabody residents tested through Oct. 28.

Nahant’s average daily incidence rate  has risen to 13.1 per 100,000 residents. Anything above eight per 100,000 nets a high-risk designation. 

Statewide, the number of communities in the red jumped to 121, up from 77 the week before.

Since last Friday, Lynn has reported 327 new coronavirus cases to bring its total caseload to 5,677. Another death was also reported in Lynn on Friday, which increases the city’s death toll to 123, according to city data. 

While case numbers have been surging, the daily spike on Friday is notable, as it mirrors spikes that haven’t been seen since the spring when the pandemic began to shut down businesses and schools. 

With case numbers on the rise, Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler announced Thursday night that he intends to keep the city’s public schools remote until at least early February. 

Lynn’s daily incidence rate has increased to 25.7 new cases per 100,000 residents, which keeps the city well above the state’s high risk threshold of eight or more cases per 100,000 residents.

And the city’s positive test rate of 5.7 percent, based on 456 positive tests in the past 14 days, is nearly four times higher than the state average of 1.55 percent, according to the state Department of Public Health.

In Peabody, city leaders urged residents to take necessary safety protocols to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Public Health Director Sharon Cameron said she is concerned about increased exposure levels, adding that from April through September, the average age of cases in Peabody had gone from about 62 to about 37.

“Between cases being younger, and because more businesses and other settings are open, we’re seeing that our cases now have a much higher number of close contacts than was the case in the earlier stages of the pandemic,” Cameron said. “Early on, people were exposing only the immediate members of their household. Now, people have much more opportunity to expose others in workplace settings, public places like restaurants and sports venues, houses of worship, schools and childcare settings, etc. It is not uncommon to find now that cases have 10 to 12 close contacts. We’ve even had a few cases where there were about 30 additional close contacts with potential exposure who needed to quarantine.”

Prior to release of the state data, Mayor Ted Bettencourt addressed the alarming trend Thursday.

“Although this increase in cases is not entirely unexpected based on public health forecasts for a resurgence of COVID-19 cases this (f)all, and based on earlier increases nationwide and across many cities and towns in Massachusetts, it does serve to remind us of the importance of remaining vigilant,” Bettencourt said. “We need to redouble our efforts to follow CDC guidelines, particularly regarding physical distancing and face masks, so that we can reverse this troubling trend and keep our residents safe.”

Bettencourt said that, nonetheless, Peabody schools will remain in a hybrid-learning model.

“Any changes to the model will be based on multiple weeks of data and evidence of increased risk of transmission to students and/or staff in the school setting, determined by collaboration with the Peabody Health Department,” Bettencourt said in a news release. 

The release went on to state that the city has established rapid response protocols whenever a member of the school community tested positive for the coronavirus and that the city has employed rigorous contact tracing and quarantine procedures along with a comprehensive air-quality assessment and enhanced cleaning efforts at each school to help reassure students, parents, teachers and staff that the schools are safe.

“Thanks to the aggressive safety protocols we have in place at the Peabody Public Schools, as well as outstanding cooperation from students, parents, teachers and staff, we are able to continue our hybrid learning model at this time,” Bettencourt said. “We will continue to monitor circumstances closely and adhere to all state guidelines relative to the safety and well-being of our school community.”

Bettencourt went on to state that, according to public health data, the resurgence in cases and deaths has been driven by small events, household exposure and informal social gatherings.

“People need to take the public health precautions of hygiene, social distancing, and mask use seriously anytime they’re in a public setting or gathering with folks outside of their household.” said Cameron. “Approximately one third of our cases  are asymptomatic, meaning that they may be unknowingly exposing others to disease because they didn’t know they were sick. And people who have higher-risk household members should consider taking precautions at home to protect the health of their loved ones.”

Cameron said in addition to following established safety protocols, “it’s critically important that people continue to cooperate with this effort if they are contacted by our Public Health Nurse during the course of an investigation.”

In Nahant, Thursday’s data reported six new confirmed cases over the last two weeks, bringing its total number up to 61. 

“Our increased risk designation is a reminder that we all still have work to do to overcome this pandemic,” Town Administrator Tony Barletta said Friday. “Residents should continue to be mindful of the importance of wearing masks, limiting interactions with people outside their household, and practicing all other COVID-19 safety protocols that have become second nature to us in the last several months.”

Under state guidelines, Nahant, one of the smallest towns in the state at roughly 3,500 residents, will remain in its current phase of reopening unless it remains in the high-risk category for three consecutive weeks. 

“The recent rise in cases across the Commonwealth and locally in Nahant is a reminder that abiding by social distance guidelines is important, especially now as we approach the colder weather and holiday season,” said Board of Selectmen chair Mark Cullinan. 

Massachusetts’ Stop the Spread testing initiative remains ongoing, and Nahant residents are encouraged to get tested, regardless of symptoms, in order to better know their COVID-19 status. 

The closest Stop the Spread sites are currently located in Lynn, and free testing is also available at the First Congregational Church in Swampscott, located at 49 Monument Ave., on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. 

More information about testing available nearby through the Stop the Spread initiative is available online at Mass.gov. 

Though the town has been designated as high risk this week, a press release from the town stated that schools “can and will remain open.” 

Residents who plan to participate in Halloween activities this weekend are being asked to take several precautions, including considering one-way or “grab and go” trick-or-treating, wearing a face mask, observing proper hygiene, avoiding large or crowded gatherings, and avoiding activities with people not from the same household. 

Additional information regarding Nahant’s response to COVID-19 can be found online at NahantCOVID19.com, and residents with questions are encouraged to contact the Nahant Board of Health at (781) 581-0088.

Item reporter Gayla Cawley contributed to this report.