Editorial: We need to stay focused on COVID

We are still in the middle of an unfolding public health emergency the likes of which very few alive have ever witnessed. And, we’re simultaneously experiencing an epochal civil rights reckoning while also attempting to navigate through what could be a cataclysmic economic meltdown.

It’s a lot to juggle, but we must start each day taking care of ourselves and our immediate family members by staying vigilant against the very real and present threat of the coronavirus.

Yes, the number of cases is on a downward trajectory in our state and our city. But people are still getting dangerously sick, and some are dying. On Sunday, the state’s Dept. of Public Health reported that 38 confirmed COVID–19 patients and 274 “suspected” virus patients were admitted to Massachusetts hospitals. That doesn’t constitute a surge— but no one should misinterpret the dip in numbers to an eradication. This is not over. Far from it.

Here in Dorchester, we continue to be among the hardest hit in Boston. The latest data released by the city tell the story: Of the 63,339 Bostonians tested for the virus through June 8, about 21 percent tested positive, according to the Public Health Commission. But among those of us who live Dorchester, that “positive” percentage is even higher— 24.8 percent (based on an average of all four Dot zip codes.) Mattapan’s “positive” rate is a bit higher at 25.4 percent, with the worst-hit neighborhood, East Boston, seeing a positive rate of about 30 percent.

There is still incomplete information, since about 15 percent of the city’s cases are missing specific information about the race/ethnicity of patients. But the statistics we do have indicate that Black Bostonians continue to be more imperiled by the virus. Of the total number of known positive cases in the city through June 8, about 37 percent are Black and 27 percent are Latinx. White people constitute about 25 percent of the caseload.

People who track this crisis hour-to-hour say they are happy to see that the peak of the first wave seems to be behind us. But that’s no cause for carelessness, particularly as outdoor dining beckons, not to mention the much larger groups protesting against racism.

“I don’t think we should let our guard down,” says Sandra Cotterell, CEO of the Codman Square Health Center, which has been testing for the virus since March.

“We should encourage people— especially as weather has gotten nicer— to take advantage of testing. If they they’ve been in crowds and‚ even if they’re asymptomatic, they should get tested. We want the favorable trends that we see to continue. We don’t want to risk seeing a surge earlier than we expect.”

Community health experts — and their peers at the national level — do expect the virus to make a comeback. Some US states that “re-opened” earlier — like Florida— are already reporting a resurgence in caseloads.

And, as Cotterell notes, just because you may have tested negative for the virus in April or May doesn’t mean you have some sort of protection from getting sick from the coronavirus in June or July.

“The test is not good for a lifetime,” she said. “If you’re in high risk neighborhoods— or you think you’ve been in a situation where you could have been exposed— I think periodic check-ins is a good idea.”

On Monday, Gov. Baker underlined Cotterell’s counsel in announcing that free testing would be made available at least 52 pop-up testing sites around the state this week. “We certainly support people’s rights to rights to express their views peacefully. But we need to keep up our fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 here in Massachusetts,” said Baker.

It’s good advice. See mass.gov/gettested for a list.

– Bill Forry