By Beth Germano

WILMINGTON (CBS) – For the neighboring towns of Wilmington and Tewksbury it’s now an overwhelming classification to be in the red zone. “Keeping up with this is a lot of work for health departments. Communities don’t have that type of staffing,” said Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori.

Wilmington Town Manager Jeff Hull says they’re dealing with 148 cases, and in Tewksbury 168 cases and rising steadily. “It’s just a level of relentlessness,” said Hull.

Both towns are now among 97 high-risk communities, which is more than a quarter of the state. “The public health nurses are completely overwhelmed,” said Montuori. “If we don’t get help and more support from the Commonwealth it’s not going to get better for us.”

They’ll also have to dig deeper for things like personal protective equipment and other support when federal money from the Cares Act runs out December 30. “My expectation is we’ll continue in this mode beyond 12/30 and I’m already giving consideration to where we come up with additional funds,” said Hull.

Officials say they’re trying to educate but some in the communities believe fatigue has set in. “They’re over it, they want things to go back to normal and live their normal lives,” said Rebecca Hargrove outside the Wilmington Market Basket.

“I feel like we need a mask mandate at this point,” said Brian Kelley. “Especially in this area a lot of people are not wearing a mask at all and I feel like that would help a lot.”

Including the need for additional contact tracers to help the communities, according to epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron from Tufts Medical Center. “When there are too many cases to be reached by contact tracers, and we’re hearing that from communities, people with COVID don’t get contacted and don’t get counseled,” said Dr. Doron.

Town managers say they can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the rise in cases but believe it’s part of the post-Thanksgiving surge they also fear is just beginning.

Beth Germano