WOBURN - The city's COVID-19 epidemic surpassed the 600-case threshold yesterday, but the trajectory of Woburn's outbreak persisted downward through the week as more local businesses resumed operations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Board of Health, a total of 601 city residents had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. At the outset of this week, city leaders also revealed the contagion had claimed yet another life, raising Woburn's casualty toll from the pandemic to 28 people.
However, with more than half of residents who have tested positive for the infection now on the mend — 335 individuals are no longer subject to isolation orders — city leaders continue to see convincing statical evidence that the worst of the present outbreak is now over.
Since the beginning of June, when the city registered its first double digit increase in COVID-19 cases in 21 days, Board of Health officials have happily recorded zero new positive test results in the community on six occasions.
Before the outset of this month, Woburn hadn't gone a day without receiving word about a new COVID-19 case since March 23 — when the city was tracking the municipality's first pair of citizens to contract the viral infection. Notably, on March 23, Mass. Governor Charles Baker issued the executive order that shuttered all non-essential businesses in the state, where gatherings of more than 10 people were also banned.
A cursory glance at Woburn's daily case tallies suggests that the height of the community outbreak occurred during a 20-plus day period in late April and early May, when DPH officials were on average tracking around 14 new cases of COVID-19 per day that involved local residents.
On May 10, the local surge broke in dramatic fashion with Woburn recording its highest daily case totals to date with 43 residents testing positive for the virus. Since that time, Woburn has only once been advised of a double digit jump in daily cases (10 positive test results on June 1).
Between June 1 and yesterday afternoon, 27 residents have tested positive for the pathogen, a rate which averages out to fewer than two new cases per day.
As has been previously reported by The Daily Times, city leaders and local health authorities have in recent weeks shifted much of their COVID-19 focus towards reopening the community's ailing local businesses.
With Phase 2 of the governor's incremental reopening plan starting last Monday, Mayor Scott Galvin is personally issuing emergency licenses for temporary outdoor dining areas within privately-owned parcels and parking lots.
Meanwhile, the mayor and other City Hall managers are also reportedly eyeing the possibility of allowing some restaurant owners utilize public spaces, including sidewalks, streets, and open-spaces. City Clerk William Campbell's office began accepting applications for the emergency use of public ways and land at the outset of this week.
"If an applicant/business wishes to use a sidewalk or public way or other…area owned by the city, a separate license must be granted," the city's newest temporary seating application explains.
"It is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that all laws, rules and regulations are complied with, including but not limited to any guidelines and requirements issued by the Commonwealth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," the guidelines, released by the mayor on Monday, further. "The outdoor dining are must be accessible and meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Massahcusetts' Architectural Access Board (AAB) regulations."
With many area merchants confused by the rules and regulations around Baker's four-phase reopening plan, city officials are trying to assist local business owners through a dedicated "Reopening Woburn" webpage.
The new online resources, which include an explanation of which businesses may now resume operations, a direct link to the state's industry-specific reopening regulations, and details regarding the status of public transportation and City Hall functions, can be accessed via https://www.woburnma.gov/reopening-woburn/.
"The goal of the phased reopening plan is to methodically allow businesses, services, and activities to resume while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 that could overwhelm our healthcare system and erase the progress we've made so far," a summary of the governor's four-phase plan explains.
"Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer before moving to the next phase. If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire Commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase," city officials added in the summary.
From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, city officials have been perhaps the most transparent in the entire region with regards to releasing statistics around daily case totals, the numbers of people serving mandatory isolation and quarantine periods, virus-related fatalities, and those who have recovered from the virus.
Unlike many of Woburn's direct neighbors, which have reverted to a weekly reporting format for new COVID-19 cases, the local Board of Health has continued to release reams of transmission data to keep the public appraised about the outbreak.
Besides updating city case totals on a daily basis — unless no new positive test results are recorded — the local Board of Health also maintains information regarding age-specific transmission rates in the community. The public health department also continues to update graphics illustrating the rate of new case transmissions.
As of last Sunday, according to some of those statistics, the 146 COVID-19 positive individuals who are at least 80 years old represent that largest pocket of positive test results, while those under 19 have been least likely to contract the virus with only 14 recorded cases. Women have also been more prone to the infection, with 366 females and 241 men testing positive for the virus as of June 14.
Data that compares the number of COVID-19 cases by age group is as follows:
• 19 and older: 14 cases;
• Aged 20-29: 77 cases;
• Aged 30-39: 102 cases;
• Aged 40-49: 75 cases;
• Aged 50-59: 74 cases;
• Aged 60-69: 76 cases;
• Aged 70-79: 43 cases;
• Aged 80 or older: 146 cases.
Even though many of Woburn's neighbors are sporadically updating new case tallies, the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) is releasing a community-by-community COVID-19 transmission report on a weekly basis.
In some circumstances — including for state tallies regarding Woburn's outbreak — DPH figures differ from the records being cited by local Boards of Health.
Though the exact cause of those discrepancies is unclear, area officials like Stoneham Health Agent Jack Fralick III have suggested the state is not counting cases that were detected in long-term care facilities under a Mass. National Guard assistance program.
COVID-19 case totals for some regional neighbors, based upon the highest number of cases cited by either local communities or the latest DPH report, are as follows:
• Reading - 313 cases;
• Burlington - 264 cases;
• Stoneham - 514 caes;
• Tewksbury - 564 cases;
• Wakefield - 309 cases;
• Winchester - 115 cases;
• Wilmington - 326 cases.