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As Coronavirus Cases Fall In Chelsea, City Braces For Economic Fallout

CHELSEA (CBS) - Chelsea remains one of the communities hardest hit by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, there were 2,412 confirmed cases and the city maintains the highest infection rate in the state. However, in recent days there has been encouraging news, the number of new coronavirus cases is falling.

"We've seen a reduction in the number of patients we're testing every day at MGH Chelsea. And we're seeing a reduction in the number of positive cases as well," said MGH Chelsea Medical Director Dr. Dean Xerras.

At its peak, city officials say Chelsea was seeing nearly 80 positive cases a day. Data now shows numbers are less than half that. Dr. Xerras says as the economy re-opens, increased testing and contact tracing efforts will be critical in slowing the spread.

"In a community like Chelsea, we're grateful that Partners in Health has helped us with contact tracing. That's going to be critical. Once little smoldering cases pop up, we'll be able to do what we didn't so well several months ago and trace," Dr. Xerras said.

Xerras says Mass General has adopted new guidance from the state, recommending close contacts of positive cases get tested -- even if they're not showing symptoms.

"Close contact means within six feet of someone for 10-15 minutes within the past 14 days," Dr. Xerras said.

While the coronavirus can affect anyone, social, economic and health disparities reveal the pandemic is affecting blacks and Latinos at disproportionate rates.

"We are experiencing a plateau in the number of cases but economically speaking we are still suffering," said City Council President Roy Avellaneda.

State data shows that among minorities, Latinos have the highest rate of infection. In communities like Chelsea, it's estimated close to half of the population, of mostly essential workers, is jobless.

"It's going to be a long bumpy road for our residents. We don't know how quickly they'll be able to get gainful employment. And even if they have employment how many hours they'll be working," Avellaneda said.

Weekly, thousands of people in Chelsea face food insecurity. Between the National Guard, the Salvation Army, the Chelsea Collaborative, and several other non-profits, pop-up pantries run on a daily basis.

The city has established a rental relief fund. But Avellaneda says they'll likely only be able to help less than half of the more than 700 who have applied for assistance. A funeral fund is also in the works. And the city council is getting ready to vote on a $1 million stimulus program for small businesses.

"All of the costs they continue to have, whether it be insurance, all of the overhead that allows them to have a brick and mortar place, we have to give them that assistance," Avellaneda said.

Avellaneda says money would come from the city's coffers and the blueprint for loan disbursement would be guided by MassDevelopment. The council is expected to vote on the plan by June 1st.

"We know this is needed," said Avellaneda. "It's very important to have our businesses survive."

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