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Update on Cambridge being Recategorized as Moderate Risk Community

caution sign The information on this page may be outdated as it was published 3 years ago.


On Thursday, October 22, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recategorized the City of Cambridge as a moderate risk “yellow” community. This designation is given to communities where the average daily case rate over the last 14 days is 4-8 cases per 100,000 population. Cambridge now has 4.1 cases per 100,000 residents according to the most recent weekly data report released by the state. Learn more.


In addition to this updated designation from the state, the health department has been monitoring two additional indicators to help provide a clearer picture on how the pandemic is affecting Cambridge:

  • COVID-19 Reported Positivity: Although the overall positivity rate in Cambridge remains low, there has been an increase in the individual unduplicated number, which is a more meaningful metric for Cambridge due to the high volume of students who are tested multiple times.
  • Wastewater Surveillance: MWRA data show that coronavirus RNA recently spiked to a level not seen since April. This includes the wastewater for the northern suburbs, which Cambridge is part of. Cambridge will be starting to assess its wastewater for virus RNA in the next few weeks, which will give us a better sense of the local picture.

Regional Matrix


Note: As part of this update, the state has also begun to include an asterisk for cities and towns when more than 30% of new cases within the last 14 days are attributed to a specific, high-risk setting, such as a higher education institution or a long-term care facility.

Potential Contributors to Increased Infections

While it is not possible to draw definite causal conclusions at this time, there are several potential explanations for the increase in cases among Cambridge residents that the health department is closely monitoring:

  • Since October 2, there has been an increase in cases of COVID-19 reported in long-term care facilities. The increase in this population is likely contributing to the overall city risk level.
  • Although the health department noticed a recent increase in cases among residents in their forties, the primary driver of new infections continues to be residents in their twenties and thirties.
  • Neighboring cities and towns saw an increase in cases recently, and it is unavoidable that cases would not remain low in Cambridge since people (pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic) frequently cross city/town borders for work, health care, and other needs.
  • Cooler temperatures are likely leading to people spending more time indoors, where the transmissibility of the virus is higher.
  • The gradual reopening of workplaces and restaurants, even with limited capacity, may be leading to more frequent contact among people from different households.
  • Communication at the federal level is not always in line with guidance from the state and city, which may be leading to additional confusion and general fatigue with risk reduction strategies.

Health Department Response

The health department continues to urge residents and anyone spending time in Cambridge to take the virus and risk of infection seriously. We encourage all residents to practice physical distancing, wear a mask in public or when spending time indoors with people from other households, avoid gatherings with people from other households, and practice basic hand hygiene. The health department is also taking the following actions:

  • Continuing to offer free weekly mobile testing for residents. Current plans under consideration are to expand the frequency and access to testing for area residents to meet the demands.
  • Deploying the Cambridge Community Corps to provide on-the-ground education and support to residents in public spaces, such as public parks and flu vaccination clinics.
  • Soliciting recommendations from the COVID-19 Expert Advisory Panel for evidence-based strategies for reducing the risk of transmission.
  • Providing guidance to local businesses, organizations, schools, and others on safe practices and risk reduction.
  • Monitoring potentially high-risk environments where the risk of transmission is greater, such as universities, nursing homes, and workplaces.
  • Coordinating its response with other city departments, such as the Cambridge Police Department, Inspectional Services Department, and the Department of Human Service Programs.
  • Organizing large-scale flu vaccination clinics to reduce the likelihood of co-infection and symptoms that could be mistaken for COVID-19.
Page was posted on 10/26/2020 5:09 PM
Page was last modified on 7/25/2023 12:34 AM
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