Covid cases top all but one Massachusetts town, maybe because Cambridge tests more than most
The most recent state Covid-19 statistics show that Cambridge has achieved a dubious distinction: It had a higher case rate than any other Massachusetts community except a tiny town in Berkshire County. The city’s average number of cases per day reached 124.2 per 100,000 population over the two weeks from April 24 to May 7.
Earlier in the pandemic, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale would often report how favorably Cambridge compared with other large Massachusetts cities – Boston, Springfield and Worcester – in case rates and other Covid statistics. In the latest state report, Boston had 59.1 cases per 100,000; Springfield, 42.9; and Worcester, 45.7. Somerville, the city’s neighbor, recorded 74.5 cases per 100,000.
The only community with a higher case rate than Cambridge was Sandisfield, with a 2020 population just under 1,000. Sandisfield reported only 24 cases of Covid-19 for the two-week period but because of its small population, the average daily case rate was 184 cases per 100,000. In Cambridge, 1,947 residents were infected over the two weeks.
Cambridge Public Health Department spokesperson Dawn Baxter said it is difficult to distinguish “precisely how much of Cambridge’s high incidence rate for April 24-May 7 is attributable to more residents being tested than in other communities versus more Covid activity in Cambridge than in other communities.” Overall, though, “the city’s high rate of testing is likely a contributor to our identifying more cases than are being identified in other cities and towns,” she said.
The city’s “testing rate” – number of tests per 100,000 population – was more than twice that of Boston and 35 percent higher than Somerville, Baxter said. During that period, Harvard University was undoubtedly contributing to the high rate; the university required undergraduates on campus to be tested once a week regardless of symptoms. Harvard ended all testing requirements May 10, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made testing optional in March.
Cases began rising in Cambridge in mid-February, after plunging from an unprecedented peak caused by the omicron variant. Wastewater data indicate that infections may continue to rise. Baxter pointed out that virus levels are increasing in wastewater collected in all four Cambridge areas sampled for Covid-19. The same pattern is occurring in Eastern Massachusetts, “so this trend is not specific to Cambridge,” she said.
The health department “continues to monitor data from a variety of sources, and we continue to urge residents to wear a mask when indoors outside their own home while Cambridge is in the CDC’s high Covid-19 community level. We want residents to be aware that Covid-19 is still very much with us,” Baxter said.
City councillor Quinton Zondervan sent an email to city leaders Friday asking more specifically for a Covid-19 update for city councillors; none has been provided for several weeks.