BOSTON (SHNS) – With the effects of the post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases still rippling outward and another round of holiday gatherings expected through the end of the month, Gov. Charlie Baker is reviewing what options he has for imposing new restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.
The governor said Monday that he expects to say more on the topic “soon” and that Massachusetts simply cannot afford to have its coronavirus caseload increase as it did in the days and weeks immediately after Thanksgiving. Baker said he was “basically begging everyone to stay within their immediate household” for Christmas and New Year’s to keep the state’s hospitals from being overwhelmed.
After the governor spoke Monday, the Department of Public Health reported 3,760 new cases of COVID-19 and announced 41 recent COVID-19 deaths. With Monday’s additions, the state’s case count rose to 314,850 people infected since Feb. 1 and the death toll climbed to 11,759 people who have died since mid-March with confirmed or likely cases of the virus.
Monday’s report also showed that Massachusetts hospitals were treating 1,991 COVID-19 patients as of 3 p.m. Sunday, a net increase of 72 patients from mid-afternoon Saturday. Of the 1,991 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 410 were being treated in an intensive care unit, including 215 people who required the help of a ventilator to breathe. The average age of people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 is 67, DPH said.
Out of 9,090 total non-ICU beds that could be staffed within 24 hours, 1,727 or about 19 percent remained available as of Sunday afternoon, DPH said. In ICUs around Massachusetts, about 404 of the 1,455 beds, or roughly 28 percent, were still open. — Colin A. Young
- Baker “Going to Buy” Vaccine Shipment Explanation: A top Operation Warp Speed official has attributed states’ smaller-than-anticipated shipments of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to his own error, an explanation Gov. Charlie Baker says he’s “willing to believe.” State officials disclosed Friday that Massachusetts was on track to receive slightly more than 145,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month instead of the 180,000 originally expected, and several other states also reported decreases. On Saturday, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer for the vaccine-development project Operation Warp Speed, took responsibility. “It was my fault,” he said. “I gave guidance, I am the one that approved the forecast sheets, I am the one that approved the allocations. There is no problem with the process, there is no problem with the Pfizer vaccine, there is no problem with the Moderna vaccine. It was a planning error and I am responsible and I don’t really know how to say it any clearer than that.” Baker on Friday described the situation as frustrating and said he hoped to learn more on a call this week with federal officials. On Monday, Baker said he’s dealt with Perna a lot over the last 10 months and called the general “a very straight shooter and a pretty honest guy.” “I’m willing to believe him,” Baker said. “I don’t have any reason not to. It does mean instead of having 300,000 vaccines to distribute between Moderna and Pfizer by the end of the year, we’re only going to end up with 265,000. As I said before, I’m frustrated about that. But if Perna says this is an issue on him, and that it’s not a major change with respect to the anticipated distribution of this stuff going forward, unless I hear otherwise I’m going to buy that.”
- N.Y. Requires Negative Test from U.K. Travelers: With a new COVID-19 variant recently identified in the United Kingdom, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that British Airways and Delta will now require travelers to the Empire State from the U.K. to show a negative COVID-19 test before departure. “We can’t let history repeat itself with this new virus variant,” Cuomo said on Twitter. Asked if he’d given any thought to a similar move in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said that Massport officials “have an ask into both the FAA and the CDC to get guidance from them with respect to what they believe the right thing to do is with respect to the news coming out of the U.K.” Baker said he anticipates an answer shortly.
- Attleboro Rep: Lack of State Testing Site is ‘Insane’: For weeks, the legislative delegation for Attleboro and the city council have been pressuring the Baker administration to establish a free state-sponsored Stop the Spread testing site in the Bristol County city. The administration has said it has no plans to make free COVID-19 testing more available, the Sun Chronicle reported, which Attleboro Rep. Jim Hawkins said is “insane.” In every week but two since September, the Jewelry City has been in the state’s highest-risk category and would have been in the highest-risk category the other two weeks had the Baker administration not changed how it assessed transmission risk in cities and towns. The closest Stop the Spread testing sites to Attleboro are in Fall River and Brockton, both about 40-minute drives by car and nearly impossible to access via public transportation. “It’s insane they don’t have one here. We’re not giving up on this,” Hawkins told the Sun Chronicle. The lone testing site in Attleboro is at Sturdy Memorial Hospital, which requires a referral, an appointment, and charges $150 for a test if the person does not have insurance. Though some drug stores offer COVID-19 testing, none of the three CVS stores in Attleboro make testing available.
- “Construction Stops COVID” Partnership: Greater Boston construction workers will have more access to COVID-19 testing under a new regional testing partnership that a group of elected officials, health experts and construction industry leaders announced Monday. The Construction Stops COVID initiative will stand up testing hubs in areas with significant amounts of construction activity, aimed at ensuring workers can get screened for the highly infectious virus and keep themselves and their families safe, and launch a public awareness campaign around the region. Harbor Health Services will provide tests and follow-up services, while Partners in Health will launch the public health awareness efforts. “Like all essential workers who play a key role in our economy, construction workers are at high risk for being infected with COVID-19,” Partners in Health Chief Medical Officer Joia Mukherjee said in a statement. “Unions are critical in the fight for health equity, and we applaud the Building Trades for developing this innovative program to keep construction workers safe in this pandemic.” The effort is a partnership between the Greater Boston Building Trades Union, Partners in Health, Harbor Health Services, and the cities of Boston and Cambridge. Officials plan to discuss the coalition in greater detail during a virtual kickoff event Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
- Another House Member Tests Positive: Another House lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office. DeLeo sent out an email to all members on Friday evening alerting them to the positive test. The email said the legislator reported last being at the State House on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the day the House voted on a compromise police accountability bill. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the speaker’s office does not identify the legislators or staff that test positive due to health confidentiality laws. Some lawmakers have chosen to reveal on their own when they have tested positive, but it’s unclear at this point who the most recent House member is to contract the virus.
- Health Care Leaders: Most Wonderful, and Dangerous Time of Year: The health care industry is amplifying Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-home-for-the-holidays message, releasing a joint video statement Monday. “It may be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ as Andy Williams famously sang in 1963, but during the pandemic this holiday season is also the most dangerous,” the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association wrote in its weekly newsletter. “The state and the Massachusetts hospital community are urging people to limit in-person celebrations to household members only, and to postpone or cancel travel this holiday season. Stay away from Santas, deliver carols virtually, and maintain social distancing if out and about looking at holiday light displays.” The statement was released by the MHA with the Mass. Medical Society, Mass. League of Community Health Centers, Organization of Nurse Leaders, and American Nurses Association – Massachusetts. “Before Thanksgiving we asked you to limit your celebrations to your own household, to protect yourself and Massachusetts’ caregivers who are working so hard to keep you healthy,” the industry leaders say in the video. “People still traveled and gathered indoors around crowded tables. Now we are all dealing with the consequences and our health care system is being stretched. We know how hard this is. We understand the sacrifices you are making. Please stay home this holiday season, to ensure that next year is joyous and bright.” COVID hospitalizations have nearly doubled since Thanksgiving, according to the MHA, and the state has experienced reductions in available ICU and non-ICU hospital beds. Hospitals remain “open and safe places to seek most care services,” the MHA said, but “they are relying on their community members to help them from being strained further.”
- Clark Receives First Dose of Pfizer Vaccine: In Washington where work on a COVID-19 relief package is ongoing, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark on Saturday announced she has received the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. “Upon medical advice, I received a coronavirus vaccine this morning,,” Clark said. “A vaccine has been made available to Congress because of the need for continuity of government operations. While I am no more deserving of the vaccine than anyone else, I want to demonstrate that coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective. By taking the vaccine, we are not only protecting ourselves, but everyone around us. I ask everyone to please take a vaccine as soon as they can. This is how we end the pandemic and the suffering it continues to cause.” She urged people to continue wear masks, social distance, and avoid large gatherings while the vaccine is being distributed, a months-long process.