BOSTON (WWLP) – Governor Charlie Baker held a news conference Tuesday offering an update on COVID-19 in the state and discussing measures to support the healthcare system.

Governor Baker was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. The Baker Administration Tuesday reinforced their policy regarding vaccines, boosters, and masks. Baker in questions following his statement, reiterated his stance to keep children enrolled in in-person schooling, and to not issue a mask mandate.

“The testing tools, vaccinations and many of the other tools that we have make it possible for people to gather safely. We just need to use them and use them appropriately,” said Baker.

Bringing in the National Guard

In addition to the information mentioned above, Governor Baker announced Tuesday his decision to utilize the state’s National Guard. Up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard will be called 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, and 12 ambulance service providers across the Commonwealth.

According to a statement sent to WWLP by the Governor’s Office, the Department of Public Health has surveyed all hospitals and ambulance service providers in the state to identify five key roles that non-clinical Guard personnel can serve in support hospital operations. These points are:

  • Non-emergency transport between facilities: 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. 
  • Patient observers: providing continuous or frequent observation of a patient who is at risk for harm to themselves.  
  • Security support: helping to maintain a safe workplace.
  • In-hospital transport: 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. 
  • Food service/tray delivery support: delivering patient meals to their rooms

The Massachusetts National Guard will be deployed to the field beginning December 27th, 2021.

Mask Advisory

DPH, in that same statement sent to WWLP, released an updated mask advisory. The advisory recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor, public spaces. This advisory does not impact preexisting mandates or lack there of. Governor Baker has stated that he has no interest in enacting a mask mandate given the state’s vaccination rate at more than 61 percent fully vaccinated.

Elective Surgery Guidance

Mass. DPH has also released updated guidance to hospitals concerning nonessential, elective invasive procedures. To preserve health care personnel resources, effective 12:01am on December 27th, all hospitals are directed to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures.

Baystate Health provided this statement in response to the Governor’s announcement:

Masking: “With the holiday season upon us, we continue to urge everyone to wear their masks, get vaccinated and boosted and to follow other safety procedures such as hand washing and social distancing. Baystate Health has always stressed the importance of masking to prevent the community spread of COVID-19 and its variants. It is more essential than ever as the Omicron variant continues its rapid spread both locally and nationally. Masking is imperative for the sake of Baystate Health as well as other area hospitals to remain stable while under the most intense pressures we have ever faced. “

National Guard: “We are thankful for the Governor’s recent decision to activate the National Guard to assist healthcare organizations fulfill critical day-to-day operations in their facilities. At a time when hospitals and health systems such as Baystate Health are facing severe staffing shortages, the National Guard will help to relieve some of the stress by providing assistance in the areas of non-emergency transport between facilities, patient observing, security support, in-hospital transport and food service.”

Planned Procedures: “Baystate Health in compliance with the Baker Administration guidelines has been working with its physicians to reduce elective procedures at its hospitals and has been reaching out to those patients whose prescheduled procedures need to be postponed. Under the newly released DPH guidance on nonessential elective invasive procedures, we will continue to comply with their requirement to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures beginning on Dec. 27.

Just as we saw last year, no patient who is deemed in immediate need will go without the services they require. Baystate Health will continue to update patients on the availability of medical services, and we encourage them to reach out to their doctor if they have any questions about their care.”

Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO, Baystate Health