WOBURN - Confident in their analysis that the latest cases do not threaten students or teachers, city leaders will not shutter local schools after state health officials yesterday again classified Woburn as having a “high-risk” COVID-19 transmission rate.
In a phone interview early Thursday morning, Mayor Scott Galvin conceded that both he and Board of Health officials remain concerned about the weeks-long upswell in new COVID-19 cases across the city.
However, Galvin and Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley say those new infections do not involve the spread of the disease in local schools and appear to be otherwise evenly spread across the entire community — as opposed to being clustered in specific neighborhoods. Given those circumstances, both local officials continue to believe it’s safe for Woburn’s schools to remain open, even though the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) has for two consecutive weeks now designated Woburn as a so-called “red” community.
“We are concerned about the uptick and we continue to ask people to do what they can to prevent the spread by wearing masks and [practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene]” said Galvin during a phone interview this morning. “As the numbers have been going up, we’ve been looking to see if there are any trends or clusters. We’re just not seeing that right now.”
“There have been 63 cases in the city over [the latest] two-week reporting period. What that means for the city is that tomorrow, when that DPH metric is released, the city will be up by 10 cases,” Crowley advised the School Committee during a meeting on Tuesday night. “As of right now, no staff have tested positive in Woburn’s schools. Everything changes day-to-day and we’re trying to be as transparent as possible.”
Under a system unveiled in early August, the severity of COVID-19 outbreaks are measured by a white, green, yellow, or red labels that correspond to incidence rate ranges. A white label is given to any city or town with fewer than five cases, while a green-color is assigned to cities and towns with an incidence rate of 3.9 or lower.
Yellow labels are given to communities with incidence rates of between 4 and 7.9, while a red label, the worst designation possible, applies to any location with a rate of 8 or higher.
Woburn's incidence rate as of Wednesday was listed as a 9.1. The week prior — based upon DPH's Sept. 29 report — the city was listed for the second consecutive time as a yellow community with an incidence rate of 7.1.
The new DPH statistic is calculated by tabulating new infective COVID-19 cases over a 14-day reporting window and comparing that figure to the entire population. In order to standardize the measurement and properly account for the varying sizes of the state's 351 cities and towns, the incidence rate is then adjusted based upon an assumed population of 100,000 people.
Yesterday, in the state’s latest community-by-community COVID-19 assessment, DPH showed the city’s incidence rate rising from a 9.1 to a 10.8 based upon 10 new active cases compared to the week prior.
In total, based upon DPH and Woburn’s Board of Health, a total of 840 residents have tested positive for the pathogen since the pandemic began last winter. Presently 63 of those cases involve individuals who are still considered infective or able to pass the contagion onto someone else.
According to Galvin, though the weekly DPH date is helpful and gives some insight into the spread of the virus, he and other city leaders will continue to carefully track each care in real-time to make important determinations about school and other COVID-19-related closures.
“There’s not a hard cut-off,” said Galvin, referring to DPH recommendations that communities consider shifting to a remote learning setting after being classified as “red” for three weeks in a row. “We’re going to look at what’s happening on the ground. We’re really looking at what’s happening in our schools and whether there are any clusters of cases.”
Based upon a look back at previous weekly DPH reports, Woburn’s incidence rate regularly fell below the green-level threshold of 3.9 until Sept. 16, when the community found itself classified for the first time as a “moderate-risk” yellow.
At that point, Woburn’s incidence rate climbed from a 4.8 on Sept. 16 to a 7.1 on Sept. 30, when the Board of Health recorded a total of 41 new COVID-19 cases over the previous 14-day reporting window.
The city’s outbreak breached the red level for the first time on Oct. 7, when Woburn’s incidence rate climbed to a 9.1.