By Christina Hager

BOSTON (CBS) – In the midst of so much hope around the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, Massachusetts is experiencing a big setback.

“You would think it would be going down,” said Katie Lucas, who lives in Middleboro, one of the towns that just moved into the high-risk red zone. Driven by new variants, cases are going up there, and throughout a big chunk of southeast Massachusetts through Cape Cod.

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As of Thursday, 77 communities in the state are currently in the red. That’s up from 55 last week.

Northeastern University infectious disease forecaster Alessandro Vespignani helps inform federal policy decisions. “Without the vaccination we would be in serious trouble,” he said. “We would have to resort to a lockdown.”

His forecast for the next few weeks does not look promising. “We can expect a rebound in the number of cases,” he said.

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But there is good news. If we stick with precautions while vaccinations ramp up, he does see relief in the summer months.

Middleboro Town Manager Robert Nunes put out a warning to residents. “While we understand everyone’s excitement to return to some sort of normalcy, we want to remind residents that COVID-19 is still prevalent in our community,” Nunes said.

Some are concerned not everyone is taking that seriously. “We came here with our masks,” said Joyce Lucas, who brought her grandchildren to a Middleboro playground Friday. “There are a lot of kids and people here that don’t have their masks on, you know, and it happens everywhere you go.”

“I feel like they’re rushing,” said another Middleboro resident, Joanna Loiselle, about the state’s reopening plans. She went to the emergency room with COVID-19 this winter.

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“The thing is, it’s always the people that you least expect you’re going to get it from, is where you’re going to get it from,” Loiselle said. “You know, you put your guard down with your family, close friends. You’ve got to know where everybody’s been.”

Christina Hager