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COVID-19 cases creep up in Massachusetts, but rates of serious illness relatively low

Workers, including Clarivel Amy (right), at a mobile vaccination site organized in 2021 by Holyoke Health Center try to convince people to pull into the parking lot outside the Boys and Girls Club in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
Karen Brown
/
NEPM

COVID-19 trends have continued to rise over the last month in Massachusetts, but not nearly to levels seen at the height of the omicron surge this winter.

The seven-day average positivity rate in Massachusetts has doubled in the last month to more than 6%, but is far less than the 23% it was in early January.

The confirmed case and hospitalization rates have also risen over the last month, although they remain a fraction of figures from January.

Dr. Robert Klugman with UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester said — despite the bump — symptoms seem to be less severe this time.

"Happily, while hospitalization rates have gone up a bit, there are not more people on respirators," Klugman said. "So most people are getting sick but not as ill has they had historically in the past."

Klugman said that could be due, in part, to more people being vaccinated and having had the virus before. Relatedly, the seven-day average fatality total from COVID-19 in Massachusetts has actually dropped slightly over the last month, now at 4.4 per day.

"We know omicron is less likely to attack the lungs, and more likely to attack the airways, nose and the throat," said Dr. Joanne Levin, the medical director of infection prevention at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. "So it causes a less severe disease because pneumonia and lung involvement is the way that previous variants of COVID have caused serious disease."

Levin said another reason for less severe cases is the availability of oral medications to help treat COVID-19.

Still, with cases continuing to rise, both Klugman and Levin suggested people wear masks indoors in public settings to protect against COVID-19 infection.