Fallout from Thanksgiving travel and festivities could intensify challenges Massachusetts will face as it continues to battle the pandemic through the December holidays, when officials will be navigating more uncertain terrain amid soaring numbers of cases.
While more indications emerge that people are chafing under pandemic restrictions, those measures are vital to curb the spread and ease pressure on the state’s health care system, officials said.
“Until we have a vaccine, we’re the vaccine,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. “Our behavior, and what we do, can help prevent the spread of this virus in our community.”
In the wake of Thanksgiving, public health officials will be closely monitoring state metrics to see what effect holiday travel and gatherings will have on the state’s COVID-19 levels. They will be looking at new cases, positivity test results, hospitalizations, and the presence of coronavirus in wastewater, which is seen as an early warning system.
Some experts, including Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University, warn that in order to limit additional cases, Governor Charlie Baker will need to roll back the state’s economic reopening.
“We need to ratchet things down and get on top of things like transmission before hospitals fill up and we’re having the crises we had before,” Horsburgh said. “It’s definitely going in the wrong direction, and we can’t sit pat, because with more infections out there, the risk is increasing.”
Dr. Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University, said public health results from those Thanksgiving activities could help officials project how upcoming holidays will affect coronavirus numbers.
“We need to be very careful. What happened during Thanksgiving could be a precursor of all the other many holidays,” Vespignani said. “So if we see a surge after Thanksgiving, then we have to think [about] and factor other possible surges for Christmas, for New Year’s Eve, et cetera.”
On Sunday, the state Department of Public Health reported 2,501 new confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, which brought the total to 217,163. The state’s death toll from confirmed cases reached 10,487, with 46 new deaths reported Sunday.
The state reported 43,709 people were estimated to have active cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, up 1,160 from 42,549 reported Saturday.
A Baker spokesman said Sunday that the administration “is not considering changes to public health protocols at this time and will continue to monitor COVID-19 data.”
Dr. Mauricio Santillana, who is director of the Machine Intelligence Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, said adherence to some public health recommendations has fallen in Massachusetts.
Santillana was part of a group of researchers who reviewed survey data collected from respondents in the state that included questions on public health matters.
The findings from October showed that since April the number of people taking steps such as frequently washing hands, avoiding