BOSTON (SHNS) – Public health officials reported 725 new COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts on Monday, breaking a nine-day run of more than 1,000 new cases a day that contributed to Gov. Charlie Baker imposing new mask requirements and business curfews.
The total number of new cases were confirmed from 51,419 tests reported since the weekend and contributed to a seven-day average positive test rate of 1.78 percent.
The state also reported nine new confirmed deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 9,797 since March, and 10,023 when including probable coronavirus deaths.
But for the first time since widespread surveillance testing began on college campuses around Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health reported that the average positive test rate over the past seven days with repeat higher education tests removed from the equation was actually 3.22 percent.
Baker has frequently been asked about the state’s inclusion of higher education surveillance testing in its total, which can serve to drive down the state’s overall positive test rate. The governor has defended its inclusion as an important metric for a cohort of residents at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, but for the first time the state is showing what the numbers would look like without repeat testing of students, faculty and staff on campuses.
The state so far has not done the same for health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities that continue to be regularly tested without showing symptoms for surveillance purposed.
The new data was part of the Department of Public Health’s latest effort to make the publicly released COVID-19 data more useful, officials said.
The department’s reorganized daily “dashboard” also began newly reporting on case growth by age group and on the turnaround time for molecular tests, which is now averaging 2.1 days from the time of a specimen’s collection to the when it is reported from a lab to the state.
The new data shows that young people under the age of 19 (2,701), people aged 20 to 29 (2,566) and those age 30 to 39 (2,493) all account for more cases of COVID-19 since Oct. 17 than the cumulative total of 2,302 cases among residents 60 and older.
The new daily report will also allow researchers and members of the public view trend lines for confirmed cases that go back to March and for the past six weeks.
“As our understanding of the pandemic in the state has evolved, certain data metrics become more useful and other metrics less so when seeking to understand the current impact of COVID on our state,” Sudders said at a State House press conference with Gov. Charlie Baker.
For instance, the daily dashboard will no longer show hospitalizations of patients who are suspected cases of COVID-19, only those whose diagnoses has been confirmed due to the improved access to testing. Monday’s dashboard reported 469 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 hospitalized, which was down from the 613 reported on Sunday when confirmed and suspected cases were lumped together.
The administration also did away with the “traffic light” system on the daily dashboard’s cover page that was intended to track the state’s progress on six key metrics as it moved toward and through its reopening process.
In practice, the lights seldom changed colors in the daily report, and an administration official said that the metrics became “less useful” to track as Massachusetts moved deeper into the pandemic.
As of Sunday, four of the six lights were green reflecting a “positive trend” for contact tracing, testing, the COVID-19 positive test rate and the number of patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and two were yellow meaning “in progress.” The two yellow metrics were deaths from COVID-19 and health care system readiness.
None of the lights were red, which would have meant a negative trend, despite the recent rise in cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates.
The daily reports will also no longer contain data on COVID-19 hospitalizations by hospital. Information on deaths by sex, previous hospitalization and underlying conditions has been moved to the weekly health report on Wednesdays, along with data on cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity.
The separating out of COVID-19 case growth by age coincides with recent warnings from the administration that spread among people under 30 has become more prevalent than among those over 60, which is a reverse from the early days of the pandemic.
Baker announced a new set of curfews and gathering size limits on Monday in an attempt to reduce the frequency of parties and private social events that the administration has blamed for the uptick in cases since the weather forced more people indoors.
“As we’ve seen, people testing positive for COVID is a much younger population compared to April,” Sudders said.
The new daily reports are now expected to be published by 5 p.m. every day, which is an hour later than they are usually posted online. The state will be reporting seven day averages for all its weighted metrics, instead of seven-day averages for positive tests and three-day averages for hospitalizations and deaths.
The dashboard will also no longer show how many hospitals are using surge capacity, which could reflect a trend unrelated to COVID-19.
The weekly public health report, which includes information on community level virus spread and the origin of COVID-19 clusters, will also be reformatted, Sudders said, but the raw data will continue to be available.
The next revamp of the daily dashboard could come early next year when Sudders said the administration hopes to unveil a interactive daily COVID-19 report.