BOSTON — The number of communities at high risk for COVID-19 nearly doubled week over week, as infection rates in some communities north of Boston soared higher amid expanded testing according to data released Oct. 7.

The Department of Public Health reported 40 communities are coded “red,” meaning they had an average of more than eight daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days, once numbers are adjusted for population. That’s up from 23 communities the previous week.

In the Merrimack Valley, several communities that were already considered high risk — including Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover — saw their rates increase over the past week.

Middleton skyrocketed to the state’s highest rate — 58.1 per 100,000 residents — after reporting 84 positive COVID-19 cases from 1,189 tests in the past two weeks.

Under the state’s four-phase reopening plan, communities that have been in the “red” for at least two consecutive weeks face tighter restrictions on public and private gatherings and businesses. That includes Lawrence, Methuen, Middleton and Haverhill.

The rising numbers of infections locally helped drive up Essex County to the highest rate in the state last Wednesday, at 12.1 per 100,000 residents. The state’s rate is 7.3 per 100,000 residents.

The state’s color-coded COVID-19 map is updated every week and classifies all 351 communities based on the rates of infection over the previous two weeks.

As of Wednesday, at least 78 municipalities were coded yellow, a moderate-risk category of between four and eight cases per 100,000, in the state’s weekly report.

Another 47 communities were shaded in green, meaning an average daily COVID-19 infection rate of less than four cases per 100,000 residents.

Overall, the majority of cities and towns in the state are coded white, which indicates fewer than five total cases.

Gov. Charlie Baker said most cities and towns have COVID-19 transmission rates low enough to lift restrictions on some businesses and allow schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Despite that, the state has seen an uptick in virus cases that’s prompted public health officials to call on Baker and other state leaders to roll back the reopening process.

More than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the past week, according to state health officials, an average of more than 500 positive tests a day.

Last Wednesday, the state reported 509 new COVID-19 cases from 16,134 individuals tested, a positive rate of about 3.1%.

The seven-day weighted average positive test rate is about 1.1%, up from 0.8% a month ago, according to state data.

For more information:

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at


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