Last week, the COVID-19 infection rate in East Boston shot up by four percent and once again the neighborhood has emerged as a virus transmission ‘hotspot’ in the city.
The infection rate has been steadily climbing since late July. The week over week infection rate rose by only 1.7 percent in early August but then jumped by 3.6 percent two weeks ago.
According to the latest data released by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) on Friday Eastie’s COVID infection rate went from 381.2 cases per 10,000 residents to 397.2 cases per 10,000 residents. The citywide average is 216.3 cases per 10,000 residents.
As of Friday 75 more people became infected with the virus in Eastie, and there were 1,864 confirmed COVID-19 cases. This was a 20 percent increase from the 1,789 cases reported by the BPHC two weeks ago.
As of Last week the BPHC reported that 10,372 residents were tested for COVID-19 and the data shows that 7.9 percent of those tested were COVID positive. Overall since the pandemic began 18.6 percent of Eastie residents tested were found to be positive.
The week over week increase has Rep. Adrian Madaro was concerned and sounded off this week on the neighborhood’s spike.
“East Boston has the highest COVID infection rate in Boston,” said Madaro. “On Friday 7.9 percent of those tested were positive for COVID. .This was over four times the state average. It was almost 50 percent higher than the second-highest neighborhood. Many cities around us are seeing the same or higher.”
Madaro said some people might imply that residents are to blame for not following guidelines closely enough.
“This is wrong,” said Madaro. “Our community isn’t worse at wearing masks/social distancing, or taking fewer public health precautions than any other. That’s not why our rates are higher than the suburbs. Our COVID infection rates are higher because our communities are systematically more vulnerable to the spread of this disease. This was true at the beginning of the shutdown, and it has become truer as MA has progressed through the phases of reopening.”
Madaro argues that many working-class Eastie residents don’t have the privilege of working from home.
“Their jobs require them to go out to work, and in most cases they’re interacting with coworkers or members of the public through jobs in the service industry – construction, cleaning, restaurants, etc.,” said Madaro. “While the shutdown meant some (but not all) of these service workers were staying home, our state’s reopening means that even more are back to work out in the public now. This means Eastie residents and surrounding communities have an increased risk of COVID exposure and infection.”
As housing in Eastie becomes more expensive and hard to find, Madaro said most Eastie workers live in apartments that are full of family or roommates, and short on space.
“People share rooms,” he said. “When everyone’s living together in a small space, there aren’t many opportunities for social distance. This means that when a worker gets sick, they have nowhere to quarantine. This puts the rest of their household at higher risk of contracting COVID. Reports indicate that this kind of “family spread” is one of the top ways that COVID is spreading in East Boston.”
Residents in high-risk communities like Eastie are also more prone to COVID due to health issues that are the result of longstanding environmental burdens.
“We are Environmental Justice communities with a long history of air pollution,” said Madaro. “Eastie residents have long suffered from elevated rates of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and COPD, a legacy of living next to an international airport and a major highway. COVID is a respiratory illness. It’s no surprise our residents are at an increased risk.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General Maura Healey released a report on the role of environmental pollution in higher rates of COVID infection in low-income communities of color. It’s no coincidence that these communities remain the hardest-hit now.
“So what do we need to do?” asked Madaro. “First, we need increased resources and assistance from the state. Gov. Baker has recently set the stage for this by designating high-risk communities, and pledging additional aid. It is also critical that the state expand access to isolation sites in at-risk communities for workers who cannot quarantine at home without putting their families at risk-Isolation sites will help reduce family spread – a major component of COVID infection rates in East Boston.”
Finally, Madaro said we need Emergency Paid Sick Leave in the state.
“Our sick leave system was not designed for a global pandemic,” he said. “Workers should not have to choose between their health and economic security. Many are forced to continue working even if exposed to COVID because they need to pay the bills. We have an obligation to help our most vulnerable residents who have been systematically more exposed to COVID infection.”
The statistics released by the BPHC as part of its weekly COVID19 report breaks down the number of cases and infection rates in each neighborhood. It also breaks down the number of cases by age, gender and race.
Citywide positive cases of coronavirus rose 2.3 percent last week from 14,571 cases to 14,916 cases. So far 10,983 Boston residents have fully recovered from the virus and five additional residents died last week bringing the total of fatalities in the city to 746.