Public health officials confirmed 1,884 new cases of COVID-19 infections Thursday and announced five recent COVID-19 deaths as the number of people hospitalized with the virus and the state's positive test rate decreased slightly.
The Department of Public Health said Thursday there are now 59 Massachusetts communities "in the red," meaning the state considers them to have the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission as the race between the ongoing vaccination push and the spread of coronavirus mutants intensifies. That's down from 77 communities in the red category last week.
Twenty-two Massachusetts communities — including Newburyport, Newbury and Salisbury — are in the green category signifying a relatively low risk of COVID-19 transmission, down from 23 communities a week ago.
There are 170 communities in the DPH's moderate-risk yellow category this week (including Amesbury, Georgetown, Groveland and Merrimac), and 100 cities and towns did not record enough cases to warrant a categorization. Rowley and West Newbury are both in the gray category.
The 1,884 new cases confirmed Thursday came from 101,521 tests — a single-day positivity rate of 1.86%. On a seven-day basis, the state's average positive test rate declined Thursday from 2.36 percent to 2.3 percent, the DPH said.
There were 710 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Massachusetts, a decline of one from Wednesday's report and a decline of two patients from Tuesday's count. Intensive care units are treating 162 patients, including 102 people who require the help of a ventilator to breathe.
Since the pandemic began, 626,550 people in Massachusetts have been infected with the coronavirus and 17,432 people have lost their lives to the virus, including 345 people who died with likely but not test-confirmed cases. As of Thursday, 1,916,830 people in Massachusetts were considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
DPH officials said they will change how the department counts COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts long-term care facilities, aligning with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national definition and reducing the state's cumulative long-term care death toll by 1,220.
In Thursday's weekly report, the DPH began using the federal standard for long-term care deaths, which counts all residents who died from COVID complications in a facility, hospital or other location, but does not count those who recovered from COVID-19 and later died.
Up to this point, Massachusetts had counted all long-term care residents who contracted the virus at some point before they died — even those who recovered between their bout with the illness and their death — as COVID-19 long-term care deaths.
The new standard mirrors the CDC's recommendation and those in place in most other states, according to the Baker administration.
"By aligning the long-term death count on the state's weekly dashboard with federal definitions for long-term care facilities, Massachusetts is aligning with the definition that other states use," DPH State Epidemiologist Catherine Brown said in a statement.
"DPH also believes this definition better supports long-term care facilities now that so many residents and staff are vaccinated to closely monitor the effect of COVID in a well-vaccinated but vulnerable population."
Locally, DPH data on Thursday shows slight increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in all Greater Newburyport communities except Rowley since the pandemic began last spring.
DPH reported the total positive cases for Amesbury rose by 20 to 1,033; for Georgetown, the total rose by 11 to 540; in Groveland, the total rose by seven to 461; in Newbury, it rose by six to 373; in Newburyport, there were 13 new positive cases for a total of 972; in Rowley, there was no change from last week when the total was 373; in Salisbury, the total rose by six to 608; and in West Newbury, the total rose by four to 181 positive cases in the past year.