BOSTON (SHNS) – Growth of COVID-19 “continues almost unabated” in the United States, and the surging case numbers do not yet reflect the full impacts of gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday, UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins said Thursday.
Collins spoke at a virtual meeting of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, where he said that challenging times are ahead but noted over the past nine months, the UMass campuses have learned much more about managing the virus and established a robust testing protocol.
“We have a knowledge and capability to deal with this virus in a way that did not exist in March, and I’m quite confident that together we can manage this,” he said.
A total of 47,576 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Massachusetts since the Friday after Thanksgiving — 13 days ago — and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has grown by 590.
Collins said the impacts of COVID-19 spread at Thanksgiving will “start to manifest itself in the next few weeks.”
“As other holidays approach and families travel, it’s likely to get even worse,” he said. “If you’ll notice the numbers every day, you see the numbers in the newspaper and on the TV, the hospital impact, the impact on the hospital community actually lags behind several weeks. You’ve seen the numbers almost exponential in their increase over the past few weeks, and we expect that to continue into the early part of the new year, and so our campuses are going to face very challenging times as we get into the January, February timeframe as we try to bring people back.”
Ahead of Thanksgiving, government and public health officials urged people not to travel or socialize in large groups. Similar messaging around limiting and avoiding risks during the December holidays has now begun.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said Thursday that there “should be no holiday parties” this year, and Rep. Bill Driscoll, a Milton Democrat with a background in disaster response, observed on Twitter that Thursday, two weeks before Christmas Eve, marked a “Pandemic Holiday Prep” deadline.
Driscoll said it is the day for final preparations and to start a full, two-week quarantine for anyone who is planning to spend time on Christmas with relatives who are not part of their immediate household. A two-week quarantine for those intending to gather indoors marks “a personal, family & societal cohesion win-win-win,” he wrote.
“If enough people quarantine during the next two weeks prior to seeing family it could help us gain serious ground in the effort to end the 2nd surge,” Driscoll said. “2 weeks is safer than 1. 1 is better than none.”
The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are slated to begin arriving in Massachusetts next week, which Collins characterized as a reason “to be positive.”
He said there are still several challenges around vaccination, including the logistics around the two required doses, a need to build greater vaccine confidence throughout the country, and the general sense of fear created by the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of people that haven’t been out of their house and in public in a long time, and we need them to come and get vaccinated,” Collins said.
Collins said he sees an opportunity for higher education “to stand in service to our communities like we’ve never seen before,” and that there is room for students, faculty and others to help in the vaccine rollout.
“Be assured, all pandemics have ended, and this one will, too,” he said. “What’s most important is that we stay safe and be vaccinated so we can get to the other side of this.”