Even as Massachusetts passed 17,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, there were still hopeful signs in efforts to get through the pandemic.

For one, residents of the state have steadily streamed into vaccination clinics at senior centers, school gymnasiums and church auditoriums  – anywhere the vaccines have become available. State Department of Public Health data this week shows more than 2.5 million Bay State residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That's 36% of the population, and rising.

With the increase in vaccinations the number of people in hospitals and intensive care units had dropped, but has started to tick up again; Tuesday's report from DPH  said 755 people were hospitalized, up 30 from Monday.

But on the positive side, as access to the vaccine opened up for adults 55 and over, people got on board and the data shows that's paying off. State House News Service reported this week that confirmed cases of COVID-19 among people 60 and older represented nearly 21% of the total infections in early January across the state. By late last month, that age group represented only 11% of the total.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who as a 64-year-old was able to get his first shot this week, noted the number of infections among people in their 70s and 80s has gone down even more significantly.

"If you just look at the data from January forward, the number of people over the age of 75 in Massachusetts who are testing positive has dropped like a rock and the number of people who have ended up in the hospital has also dropped like a rock," Baker said Tuesday.

Now, the concern is for younger people who aren't yet eligible for vaccinations. With most public schools back to in-person classes this week, and many teachers and school staff receiving at least one shot, all eyes will be on the pool testing in coming weeks to see whether COVID-19 infection rates rise in these younger age groups.

With the vaccination numbers going up and the rules loosening for schools and other public gatherings, officials will be paying close attention to infection rate trends in different age groups. Adjustments, recalibrations and maybe even temporary shifts back to fully remote classes or meetings are to be expected as we move toward the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.  

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