State Extends Capacity and Gathering Limits, Issues New Guidance for Hospitals

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced the extension of further restrictions and new hospital guidance to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.

Industry restrictions for capacity limits and reduced gathering limits went into effect on Dec. 26, and will now be extended for at least two more weeks to Sunday, Jan. 24.

Under the current restrictions that are being extended today, most industries in Massachusetts remain subject to a 25% capacity limit. They include restaurants (based on permitted seating capacity); close-contact personal services; theaters and performance venues; casinos; office spaces; places of worship; retail businesses; driving and flight schools; golf facilities (for indoor spaces); libraries; lodging (for common areas); arcades and indoor recreation businesses; fitness centers and health clubs; and museums, cultural facilities, and guided tours.

Workers and staff will not count toward the occupancy count for restaurants, places of worship, close-contact personal services, and retail businesses. All other rules and restrictions in existing sector-specific regulations will remain in effect.

Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people. The gathering limits apply to private homes, event venues, and public spaces.

The Department of Public Health’s hospital guidance, issued in early November, establishes a regional tiering system for hospitals to support continued collaboration among hospitals and sustain capacity. Since early December, all regions across the Commonwealth have been in tier-3 status. This week, in response to the continued rise in hospitalizations, all regions across the state have been escalated to tier-4 status. In tier 4, the hospitals in each region will meet at least daily, and will continue to collaborate across regions where necessary, to address growing capacity constraints and continue to load balance as needed.

To support the healthcare system’s continued response to the surge in cases and hospitalizations, the Commonwealth is allowing the deployment of acute nursing staffing under certain circumstances. Hospitals with severe capacity constraints may request a temporary exemption from the mandated nurse-to-patient ratios in the ICU. This option will be available only to hospitals with capacity of less than 20% which first attest to DPH that they have suspended all non-essential elective invasive procedures, including those conducted in an outpatient setting under the hospital’s license.

Additionally, hospitals must take every reasonable step to expand capacity prior to requesting a temporary exemption. If a hospital’s bed capacity increases, or if the hospital restarts non-essential elective invasive procedures, the hospital must resume compliance with the ICU staffing requirements.