BOSTON — Today, the Baker-Polito administration announced additional measures to address a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and to ensure acute-care hospitals have sufficient capacity to care for both COVID and non-COVID patients.
The Commonwealth’s healthcare system is facing a critical staffing shortage which has contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds since the beginning of the year. Hospitals are also seeing a high level of patients, many due to non-COVID related reasons.
Residents are reminded that getting a vaccine and booster remain the best way to protect against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID. The Department of Public Health (DPH) released updated COVID breakthrough data this week showing that 97% of COVID breakthrough cases in Massachusetts have not resulted in hospitalization or death. Unvaccinated individuals are five times more likely to contract COVID than fully vaccinated individuals and 31 times more likely to contract COVID than individuals who have a booster.
Massachusetts is a national leader in COVID-19 vaccinations, with more than 94% of eligible residents having received at least one dose. More than 89% of the entire Massachusetts population has at least one dose, and 74% of the entire population is fully vaccinated. Massachusetts also leads the nation in vaccinating communities of color, with 68% of all black residents and 67% of all Hispanic residents receiving at least one dose, compared to 42% of black residents and 52% of Hispanic residents nationally.
DPH released an updated mask advisory today, recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor, public spaces.
DPH particularly urges this recommendation for individuals who have a weakened immune system or are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
All people in Massachusetts (regardless of vaccination status) are required to continue wearing face coverings in certain settings, including transportation and healthcare facilities. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s current mask requirement is not impacted by this advisory.
Gov. Charlie Baker is activating up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to address the non-clinical support needs of hospitals and transport systems. Up to 300 of these Guard members will begin training this week and will support 55 acute-care hospitals, as well as 12 ambulance service providers across the Commonwealth.
DPH surveyed all hospitals and ambulance service providers and, in concert with the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Assoc., has identified five key roles that non-clinical Guard personnel can serve in support hospital operations for up to 90 days: driving ambulances used to transfer patients between two healthcare locations, such as when patients are discharged from a hospital and transferred to a long-term-care facility; providing continuous or frequent observation of a patient who is at risk for harm to themselves; helping to maintain a safe workplace; bringing patients via wheelchair or, if needed, stretcher, from their patient room to tests such as X-ray or CT scan, or from the emergency department to their inpatient floor; and delivering patient meals to their rooms. Guard personnel will be deployed to the field beginning Dec. 27.
DPH also released updated guidance to hospitals concerning non-essential, elective, invasive procedures. To preserve healthcare personnel resources, effective Dec. 27, all hospitals are directed to postpone or cancel all non-essential elective procedures likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity.
Patients are reminded to still seek necessary care at their hospital or from their healthcare provider.