Hundreds of new cases detected within community…

READING — After shallowly retreating for two weeks, the town’s COVID-19 case positivity rates soared to highs not seen since state officials first began tracking the metric in the fall of 2020.

Covering infection trends recorded between Dec. 12 and Dec. 25, the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) late last week reported that 217 Reading residents tested positive for the viral infection in the seven-day period leading up to Christmas Day.

That incredible weekly surge in confirmed cases resulted in Reading’s positivity rate jumping from 6.94 to 8.51 percent, the highest rate ever detected within the community. The previous record was set last January during the height of pandemic’s second wave, when DPH pegged the indicator for Reading at 8.15 percent.

Though still below the record set last January, Reading’s case incidence rate also jumped by more than 17 points in the two-weeks leading up to Christmas.

Now standing at 72.5, or 6.5 points below the record 79 figure set in Reading last winter, the case incidence rate metric compares the number of new infections recorded over a two-week period to population size. During the waning days of November, when local officials first started sounding the alarm about the new “Omicron” strain on COVID-19, Reading had a 43.1 incidence rate.

The newest surge in local COVID-19 cases is being reported as Reading’s Board of Health is ready to renew the debate over local masking mandates.

Tonight, during a virtual meeting that will begin at 7 p.m., the public health officials are expected to vote on whether to impose a universal facial covering order that would apply to anyone congregating in a public space within the community.

All students and staffers within Reading’s public school district have been subject to an indoor masking mandate since classes resumed in September, while just last week, the Board of Health reinstitute a facial covering requirement for all Pleasant Street Center visitors.

The last major debate over a public masking mandate took place at a Board of Health meeting in early October, when the community had just 10 active COVID-19 cases.

Though ultimately voting to recommend that all residents wear facial coverings when gathering within indoor spaces, the Board of Health ultimately opted against reimposing a facial covering order.

The Board of Health also in mid-August briefly discussed masking mandates after the “Delta” variant of COVID-19 became the predominant viral strain within Massachusetts.

Though the state would soon follow suit with it’s own masking mandate, Reading was one of the first communities in the state to enact a universal masking order at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Ultimately, the Board of Health rescinded all of its initial public health directives regarding COVID-19 in June of 2021 - or just days after Mass. Governor Charles Baker declared an end to a pandemic-related state of emergency.

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