NORTH ANDOVER — Officials say two COVID-19 clusters — one tied to hockey leagues and another to a house party — are causing the town's number of positive cases to climb. 

According to North Andover's website, the number of COVID-19 cases locally rose from 18 to 52 from Oct. 20 to 26. The official figures are coming out tomorrow, but Chris Nobile, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said the two situations are responsible for the spike.

"There are a couple of clusters ... between a house party apparently and another group related to hockey," said Nobile."I don't have the rest of the contact tracing details, but it's really about personal responsibility."

The state’s color-coded COVID-19 map is updated every week and classifies all cities and towns based on the rates of infection over the previous two weeks. Communities designated as high risk, coded red on the map, had an average of more than eight daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days, once numbers are adjusted for population.

During the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues said that if the state records 34 or more cases for the town when it does its risk designation, the town is considered red. 

"Like the rest of the Commonwealth, North Andover is starting to see an increased number of cases amongst residents," Murphy-Rodrigues said Wednesday night. "Although we haven't yet seen this week's community data map from the state, I anticipate that we will be red, and that our numbers would cause us to be red with or without higher education."

One of the sources of the recent outbreak in North Andover is youth hockey leagues. Baker recently shut down all ice rinks in the state until Nov. 7 after 30 clusters and 108 COVID-19 in the state were found to be linked to them.

"What they are finding is that in cold weather the droplets are not evaporating as quickly and that's why they think hockey is a problem, but it's an alarming thing to think about as we are coming to the winter," Murphy-Rodrigues said during Monday night's meeting.

North Andover first received the state's high-risk designation Sept. 30, following an outbreak of more than 90 cases at Merrimack College. The outbreak was tied to Monican Hall, a dormitory which physically sits over the town line in Andover, but has a North Andover address. 

Town officials have been asking the state to reconsider the community's red status because the outbreak was tied to the college instead of to the town's general population. Being designated high risk prohibits North Andover from moving to Phase 3 Step 2 of the reopening process. 

Gov. Charlie Baker declined the request saying,  “I don't think it makes sense for us to change a program model for 351 cities and towns for one or two outliers."  

State rankings now note which cities and towns with high-risk designations have outbreaks at residential institutions within their borders. 

Now, instead of asking to be moved into Phase 3 Step 2, North Andover is printing off safety signs to be placed around town asking residents to remain socially distant and wear masks.

"We have some signs that are going up around town reminding people to keep their distance and use their masking," said Nobile. Later adding, "It's really about personal responsibility right now and if people do that we will be right back to where we were."

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