By Kristina Rex

LAWRENCE (CBS) – Most cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts are considered high risk for COVID-19 spread. Each week the state adds cities and towns to the “red zone” list as the virus spreads.

“We’re seeing what we feared, which is that about a week after Christmas, which is about the incubation period, massive upswings in cases,” said Mass General Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mark Siedner.

As of Thursday, more than half of Massachusetts is in the COVID red zone. Cities like Boston and Lawrence have been hotspots, but infectious disease experts warn the threat has spread.

Mass General Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mark Siedner (WBZ-TV)

“These last few months have been a slow, painful downward spiral and basically I think we’ve lost control of this epidemic, not just in Boston, not just in urban areas but essentially across the state,” Dr. Siedner said.

In the city of Lawrence, the COVID positivity rate is up to nearly 18% far exceeding the state average of 8.6%.

The city’s schools haven’t had students inside since March of last year, though, the superintendent announced recently that high needs students will be welcomed back into the classroom in Lawrence starting January 19 despite climbing COVID cases in the city.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh focused on the pandemic in his New Year’s message to the city.

“We all have a role to play in this crisis,” Walsh said. “Whether we are first responders, frontline workers, caregivers, students, teachers, volunteers, or residents simply wearing a mask and listening to the public health guidance,”

At hospitals statewide around 75% of ICU beds are taken and health experts are worried about the trends.

“Anxiety is high, the healthcare workforce is exasperated, and we need a break,” Dr. Siedner said. “We need things to change in the other direction so I really hope that people take this information to heart and we see some changes soon.”

Governor Charlie Baker and his team use the red zone data to determine reopening plans in Massachusetts. Right now, the state is under strict capacity restrictions at most businesses which started following Christmas. Baker said those are going to last at least two weeks based on this data.

Kristina Rex