SALEM — The city is reporting fewer new coronavirus cases, but Salem officials are expanding testing and not taking anything for granted.
While it remains at the state’s yellow COVID-19 alert level, Salem has seen a significant drop in its number of new cases per 100,000 people, from 6.5 last week to 4.9 this week, according to the state Department of Public Health. The statistic is used to measure progress in all Massachusetts communities equally, regardless of population.
City officials announced late Thursday that the state’s free “Stop the Spread” COVID-19 testing, available at Salem High School six days a week, is being extended to the end of September. It was originally due to run through Sept. 12, at which point the city’s own testing program, “Salem Coronavirus Awareness Network,” would have taken over and offered free testing on specific days through November.
“The testing is showing that if we have cases, we’re getting to them quicker, and we’re able to isolate and quarantine faster and contact-trace faster,” said city health agent Dave Greenbaum. “As of this past Wednesday, our numbers did decrease a little bit further. We went to 4.9 cases per 100,000 with a positivity rate that was down, from 1.97 to 1.3 percent.”
The testing, which is done by an ambulance company contracted through the state, has cranked out an average of 227 tests per day in its first 15 days, Greenbaum said. Overall, 3,404 tests have been performed, and only 24 have come back positive.
Results from other North Shore communities show improvement and declines. Lynn, a critical COVID-19 hot spot on the North Shore, dropped from 16.7 to 12.1 new cases daily per 100,000 people, though it still remains at a red alert level. Peabody and Swampscott both had new-case statistics increase beyond Salem’s current level, though both remain in the yellow.
After going from a yellow to red rating in August, school leaders quickly scrapped plans for reopening school that had just been approved two days before, and instead moved to an all-remote model. The free daily testing was announced two days later.
Generally, testing runs at the same time week to week, with no testing scheduled for Sundays. All testing is done at Salem High School, 77 Willson St.:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 2 to 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Testing on Saturday, Sept. 12, will run from 2 to 6 p.m. instead of the regular time.
“We’re really fortunate to have the testing being expanded,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “It’ll continue to give residents or anybody who works in Salem or spends a lot of time here an opportunity to test for free.”
That’s critical, Driscoll said, because a lot of different forces are due to converge and increase the COVID-19 transmission risk in the coming weeks.
“We have the high season of visitors coming here, the start of regular school in Salem and the start of colleges and universities,” Driscoll said. “And temperatures are declining, so we know people will be spending more time indoors — where transmission increases.”
That said, “we aren’t ready to roll back any of the precautions that are in place or current guidelines,” Driscoll said. “But if we get to the point where we see a trend of some length of time, we can start considering those moves.”
In other words, masks are still required throughout downtown, and the schools remain all-remote for the time being.
“I think the board may discuss the mask requirements as we move through to the colder months, unless people are out and about,” Greenbaum said. “But at this time, it hasn’t changed.”
NORTH SHORE COVID-19 LEVELS
Beverly: Green (3.1, up from 2.4 last week)
Lynn: Red (12.1, down from 16.7 last week)
Peabody: Yellow (5.1, up from 5.0 last week)
Salem: Yellow (4.9, down from 6.5 last week)
Boxford: No rating (3.7, up from 1.9 last week)
Danvers: Green (1.8, down from 2.0 last week)
Hamilton: No rating (1.9, down from 4.8 last week)
Ipswich: No rating (2.1, identical to last week)
Marblehead: No rating (1.5, down from 2.6 last week)
Middleton: No rating (0.7, identical to 0.7 last week)
Swampscott: Yellow (5.2, down from 5.7 last week)
Topsfield: No rating (0, down from 1.2 last week)
Wenham: No rating (5.5, up from 1.4 last week)
Numbers are based on new cases per day per 100,000 people as of Aug. 26. Colored ratings and indicators of whether a town is lower, higher or has no change is based on week-to-week levels, number of people tested and more.
Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health.