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MIT Researcher Projects New COVID-19 Cases Have Peaked In 3 Western Mass. Counties

The COVID-19 drive-through testing station at Lawrence General Hospital.
Robbin Lubbock
The COVID-19 drive-through testing station at Lawrence General Hospital.

A researcher at MIT projects three counties in western Massachusetts have seen the peak in daily new cases of the novel coronavirus, while a fourth will see the top in about a week.

Dimitris Bertsimas is an associate dean at MIT with a background in statistics. He leads a team of researchers who have built a model predicting when new COVID-19 cases are likely to peak in different states.

Bertsimas ran the numbers at a county level in Massachusetts.

"The model predicts that Hampshire, Berkshire and Franklin are past their peak, while Hampden would reach the peak in about one week," he said. "Just for comparison, Massachusetts in general is expected to see the peak in a week or so."

Bertsimas said he can't say what caused the projected peaks to be different.

But he said factors could include population density, how much people have complied with lockdowns, and whether a county already had a high rate of infection when a lockdown went into effect.

Bertsimas said his model is based on large populations, and that what's happening on a more local level could be impacted by occurrences like nursing home outbreaks.

He also cautioned that just because the peaks may have passed in some places does not mean it's time to ease up on social distancing. 

At Baystate Hospital in Springfield, an official said the number of patients needing hospitalization because of COVID-19 has leveled off in the past week.

Dr. Andrew Artenstein said that it's possible that means the number of people with confirmed cases of the virus in the region has plateaued, too.

"It may be rough, but there's probably general correlation," he said. "The only thing I don't know is will the plateau turn back upward, and it could do that if there's a few hot spots in the community that kind of light on fire, like some of these nursing homes have done.

That said, Artenstein called the plateau in COVID-19 patients at Baystate "good news."

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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