With the rate of coronavirus infections in Massachusetts steadily marching upward, it is time for all Bay Staters – including our political leaders – to reevaluate our approach to stopping the pandemic.
As of this writing, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts had risen by nearly 25 percent over the last seven days and consistently increased day after day for the last month. As of Aug. 6, state public health officials reported 4,049 positive cases in the prior 14 days alone. The seven-day average share of tests that came back positive has hovered above 2 percent since July 30, a place the state hadn’t been since mid-June.
It is, as Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. David Rosman put it, “an unyielding upward trend.”
Where are these new cases coming from? Gov. Charlie Baker has publicly cited house parties and other lapses in judgement by state residents. Public health researchers like Harvard Global Health Institute director Dr. Ashish Jha argue recently reopened gyms and restaurant dining rooms may also play a role.
The state’s contact tracing data will hopefully provide enough information to guide a policy response that is both relatively surgical in its efforts to limit economic damage and sufficiently forceful to reverse the disease’s spread.
Editor’s Note: Gov. Charlie Baker announced new restrictions on outdoor gatherings and new enforcement powers for local police on the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 7.
Wherever the data leads, it is certain that Baker and other state leaders need to act quickly. After months upon months of social distancing measures, it is disappointing but not surprising that some Massachusetts residents appear to be stepping back from the caution that can save our society and our economy.
The last six months have been alternately terrifying, heart-rending and wearying, and to find ourselves in peak summer still staring down the pandemic may lead some residents let down their guard. However, it’s exactly this behavior that will keep us under the virus’ thumb for even longer. Absent a vaccine, the surest way to defeat the pandemic is universal mask-wearing by those who are healthy enough to do so, coupled with an avoidance of prolonged stays indoors with strangers.
Economists warned last week that the nation was entering what might be called the “job destruction” phase of this recession. Already, consumer spending habits show many are wary of big purchases, with Massachusetts’ reluctant home sellers but one example. As attempts to pivot to a new way of doing business prove insufficient, as business’ savings are exhausted or their owners themselves lose heart that their firm’s recovery is possible, closures or downsizings will mount.
We may not be able to save all the businesses that will shutter, the workers who will lose their livelihoods or and the lives that will be lost to the pandemic, but with committed efforts now, we can save many.
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