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Are COVID cases rising in the Boston area?

Hospitals on alert due to uptick in COVID cases
Hospitals on alert due to uptick in COVID cases 02:50

BOSTON - It feels like COVID-19 is picking up again, but is it, really?

"Everyone knows somebody with COVID right now," Tufts Epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron told WBZ news. State wastewater data suggests we are at a small peak with COVID levels in our area at the moment, but Dr. Doron calls it an uptick rather than a true surge.

"While we have seen an uptick in hospitalizations, the numbers are really quite low compared to other times we've been through in this pandemic," she explained.

Tufts has about seven COVID-19 patients right now – more than its usual zero to four, but far less than the up to 90 it saw in the worst of the pandemic.

COVID wastewater Massachusetts
COVID Wastewater report Mass.Gov

"This is a very manageable number," she explained. "It's how we typically have a number of respiratory viruses at any given moment, usually more in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer."

Still, the Northeast appears to be in a league of its own regarding timing. "What we are seeing across the country is that every single region other than the Northeast is definitely on its way down, you know really coming down fast," Doron explained. "The Northeast seems to be at a peak and it's taking its time coming down unfortunately."

COVID-19 absences can be a headache for staffing. "There are spots around the state were both nurses and physicians are testing positive and so then you know they're out of work for several days," explained Katie Murphy, the head of the Massachusetts Nurses' Association. "When somebody with whom you are working test positive, whether it's a physician or a nurse, you are positive, you are out of there. So, they are leaving in the middle of the shift, so yeah, it's impacting our care."

Some hospitals have reimplemented mask mandates in response to the uptick. Dr. Doron says Tufts is not in that place yet. "We are always reevaluating our mask policy – all of our policies actually and so yeah, we have had this conversation and we are watching all of the indicators to decide when that will happen," she said.

A spokesperson for Mass General Brigham tells WBZ its "hospitals have seen a slow rise in the number of COVID cases in our hospitals in the past two months from the summer baseline. This appears to be continuing at present, but we have not seen any major spikes in the rate of rise of cases. The number of cases in our hospitals remains well below the peaks of last winter and spring at present."

In the meantime, CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen was in Boston Wednesday visiting the Whittier Street Health Center and encouraging people to get the new, annual COVID-19 vaccine. "What I want folks to understand is that protection is decreasing over time and this virus is changing," Cohen said.

The new vaccines – including Novavax which the FDA just approved – are designed as annual shots, not boosters, to fight developing strains of COVID-19.

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