New data shed more light on source of coronavirus clusters around Mass.

Of the 28 COVID-19 clusters linked to child care from Sept. 27 through Oct. 24, just 70 confirmed infections were identified, along with 253 close contacts that required additional tracing and testing.

Similarly, just 70 confirmed cases were identified from 19 clusters in restaurants and food courts, the data show.

In posting the new data, Massachusetts joins a handful of other states that are sharing such information.

Health departments in some states, including Louisiana, post reports from their contact-tracing programs that specify the businesses, schools, or other facilities where outbreaks are occurring. Others, such as Vermont and Colorado, post the occupations, industries, or settings — such as bars, casinos, or food processing plants — with the highest number or percentages of infections in their states.

Massachusetts’ new data show 2,707 clusters involving 6,830 new cases linked to households. That accounts for about a third of all the new infections in the past month.

“A large amount of transmission is occurring in households, a place where people let their guard down and feel safe,” said Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the state’s coronavirus command center. ”It’s critical that residents are aware of this and — especially those living in multi-generational homes or with family members who have underlying conditions — take precautions even in their home, such as wearing a mask, washing hands and not sharing utensils, as a few examples.”

Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said the household data leaves too many unanswered questions.

“What we really want to understand is how is the spread getting into the community,” she said. “Residents living in the same household, we know they are likely to spread it to each other.”

Earlier this week, Governor Charlie Baker said workplace infections are not driving the state’s surge in cases, but the new data suggests that’s an open question.

The data do not identify whether the cases and clusters identified in nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care settings are among workers or patients. But it does show that about 16 percent of the confirmed cases linked to clusters in the past month are from various sites, including health care, restaurants, retail stores, and other settings.

As the holidays approach, Baker has urged residents to be cautious about social gatherings, but the new data suggest those gatherings are not necessarily fueling the latest surge in coronavirus infections.

The new numbers show 11 new clusters traced to social gatherings in the last month. Yet those clusters accounted for just 67 new confirmed cases, along with 50 other people considered close contacts who may have been infected.

“Clearly that is not what is driving this latest spike of over 1,000 new cases a day,” Pavlos said.


Kay Lazar can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

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New England ice rinks shut down after coronavirus case clusters emerge linked to hockey

Health officials are concerned that indoor ice hockey could result in the spread of coronavirus this winter in several New England states, according to The Washington Post.

Massachusetts ordered all indoor ice rinks and skating facilities to close on Thursday, citing the 108 probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been found to be linked to hockey games and their practices, according to a press release.

“This pause will allow for the development of stronger COVID-19 protocols to further protect players, families, coaches, arena staff and other participants, as well as communities surrounding hockey rinks,” the release stated.

New Hampshire made a similar move earlier in October. Health officials identified nearly 158 cases connected to hockey over a two-month period within the state, according to a press briefing held by Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a study in October that revealed that 14 out of 22 Florida hockey players suffered COVID-19 symptoms following a game at an indoor arena in June. 

“The indoor space and close contact between players during a hockey game increase infection risk for players and creates potential for a superspreader event, especially with ongoing community COVID-19 transmission,” according to the study.

Youth hockey games in Maine were canceled after one referee contracted the virus and potentially exposed nearly 400 people over the course of one weekend, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) issued a ban this month to keep rinks from taking new reservations for two weeks and will potentially add more restrictions, according to a news release.

Other states across the U.S. are preparing to brace for the winter amid spikes in coronavirus cases. The country has seen a total of 71,671 new cases and 865 deaths since Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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The unlikely way Marin County is searching for coronavirus clusters

Marin County is looking for the coronavirus in a surprising place: wastewater.

People infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their feces, and wastewater sampling can gauge the overall prevalence of inefection in a community and identify an outbreak before individuals display symptoms.

The county started collecting samples from wastewater treatment plants in August and sending them to researchers at UC Berkeley to analyze in a lab.

The samples are pulled from plants that serve a specific area or multiple regions, and if they test positive for a high level of COVID-19, the city can put together a testing plan for individuals living in that area.

“We can use this to identify the virus in an area before any individuals test positive,” said Rochelle Ereman, the community epidemiology program manager for the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.

Marin County is testing wastewater samples for COVID-19 from 11 sites.

Marin County is testing wastewater samples for COVID-19 from 11 sites.

Marin County

The county launched the effort at San Quentin State Prison, where hundreds of prisoners were infected in a major outbreak over the summer. Now, the county tests at 10 additional sites: Ross Valley; Corte Madera; San Rafael; the Canal area of San Rafael; Tiburon and Belvedere; Terra Linda and Marinwood; the Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District; Marin City; Novato; and Southern Marin, including Mill Valley, Tamalpais Valley, Alto, Altamonte and Richardson Bay.

San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood saw a spike in cases over the summer, and Ereman said wastewater sampling identified when cases were declining.


At San Quentin, they have been able to pull samples from wastewater associated with individual buildings, and while the project started after the prison’s major outbreak, Ereman said they were able to recently identify a “blip” in cases.

The work at the Marin County prison also shows how it’s possible to hone in on a specific place.

“We started with San Quentin because it was a confined place,” said Ereman. “This could be used at schools, small buildings, large buildings, community areas, skilled nursing homes. It can help us look at our highest-concern, highest-risk communities.”

Jason Dow, general manager of the Central Marin Sanitation Agency, said a machine that’s about the size of a refrigerator pulls the samples from the plants with a long tube. About a gallon of water is collected and put in a jug for the lab.

“They don’t actually measure the number of actual COVID viruses but they can measure a quantity of the genetic material,” Dow said. “There’s RNA associated with the virus, kind of like you have DNA in your body, viruses have RNA. They can tell if there’s none, some or a lot. They can tell if there are increases or decreases. They can get that information in a day or two.”

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