PUTTING TOGETHER this list of the most read CommonWealth stories of 2020 was a bit disappointing.

Normally, these types of lists tend to highlight the best stories of the year – interesting reads, in-depth reports, or breaking news. But 2020, as we all know, wasn’t a typical year. For the most part, the CommonWealth stories that attracted the most attention in 2020 were routine reports about COVID-19 at a time when we were all learning about the coronavirus.

Eight of the 10 most read stories dealt with COVID. Six of the 10 were published between March 29 and April 13, a period when COVID-19 was raging and most people, including reporters at CommonWealth, were struggling to figure out what was going on.

Based on what we know today about the coronavirus, the stories from late March and early April all seem fairly tame.  Looking at them now, they are a reminder of how little we knew then and how much more we know now.

There was a story on the surge in cases (that hasn’t changed much) and the increase in testing. One “Virus notes” column from March 29 reported that the state had conducted 39,066 tests for COVID-19; now the number of tests is approaching 11 million.

Face masks are taken for granted now, but in March and April they were hotly debated. Gov. Charlie Baker, a big believer in wearing masks now, back then wasn’t wearing them to State House press conferences.

The virus notes column from March 29 had an item about a professor of infectious diseases in Korea urging everyone to wear a mask and wash their hands. Another widely read “virus notes” column from April 5 reported that Baker, who showed up at a press conference without a mask, was calling the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new face mask guidance appropriate.

A story in November recounted news coverage of a CDC decision to revise its guidance on the danger of in-person learning. The CDC had been downplaying the possibility of transmission in schools and was now indicating that transmission could occur. The CommonWealth story, part of our Download news aggregation email, reported what other news reports were saying and said in-school learning was now considered “high risk.”

Rachel Keane of West Orange, New Jersey, recently sent me an email suggesting the CommonWealth story has been disseminated in her community because opponents of in-school learning are using it to make their case. She said the in-school learning is more risky than remote learning, but the danger is not as great as the article, and particularly its headline, suggested.

With those caveats, here are the most read CommonWealth news stories of 2020 in descending order.

  1. Is Massachusetts seeing the COVID-19 surge? by Shira Schoenberg. April 13

The story explores whether Massachusetts is in the midst of the expected surge or not.

Attorney General Maura Healey (File photo State House News)


  1. Healey: America is burning, but that’s how forests grow by Shira Schoenberg. June 2

“Attorney General Maura Healey, in a passionate speech on Tuesday, suggested the protests sweeping the nation may yield long-term benefits. “Yes, America is burning. But that’s how forests grow,” she said.”


  1. Virus notes: Mass. among top states on testing by Bruce Mohl, Colin Young, and Shira Schoenberg. March 29

At the time, the state had conducted 39,066 tests. Now the number is approaching 11 million.


  1. Virus notes: Franklin emerges as hotspot by Bruce Mohl and Katie Lannan.

“Two of the state’s smallest counties emerged as hotspots based on deaths per 1,000 people.”


  1. Berkshire County a COVID-19 hotspot by Bruce Mohl. March 30

“Those numbers may not sound very large, but they are attracting considerable attention in Berkshire County because they rival some of the COVID-19 hotspots around the nation, including New York and Seattle.”


  1. Virus notes: Baker calls new face mask guidance appropriate, by Bruce Mohl and Shira Schoenberg. April 5

“Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t wear a face mask at a press availability on Sunday, but he said new guidance from the federal government urging people to wear masks under certain conditions was appropriate.”


  1. DA seeks huge bail increase after learning nonprofit fund would pay it, by Michael Jonas. August 23

“The head of the state office that oversees legal representation for indigent defendants decried the DA’s motion and said it underscores a longstanding criticism of the system — that prosecutors are using bail to keep poor defendants from getting out of jail while awaiting trial.”

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins.


  1. Physician assistants provide workforce flexibility by Shira Schoenberg. April 2

“There are about 4,000 physician assistants in Massachusetts, and the flexibility they bring to the health care system is becoming increasingly vital as hospitals prepare for an expected surge in patients with COVID-19.”


  1. When will Massachusetts reopen? by Shira Schoenberg. May 7

Baker said assuming the data continue to show a downward trend in coronavirus spread, which didn’t happen Wednesday, his goal would be to open some businesses starting May 18 in a limited fashion, with safety precautions.”


  1. In-person learning now considered high-risk by CDC by Sarah Betancourt. November 19

“Some of the prior content was outdated and as new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools,” a spokesperson told the news outlet.”