Massachusetts updates masks advisory, prompts Nationwide Guard to assist strained hospitals

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By Nik DeCosta-Klipa

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration is as soon as once more recommending that each one people in Massachusetts — no matter vaccination standing — put on a face masking in indoor public areas.

The state’s Division of Public Well being introduced the up to date masks advisory Tuesday morning, because the omicron variant turns into the dominant pressure of COVID-19 and a rising variety of hospitalizations places a pressure on an understaffed well being care system within the midst of the vacation season.

The advisory notably urges people to put on a masks if they’ve a weakened immune system, face elevated danger for extreme illness from COVID-19 due to their age or an underlying medical situation, or stay with somebody who’s excessive danger or unvaccinated.

“For people who aren’t totally vaccinated, it’s particularly necessary that you simply put on a face masking or masks any time you might be indoors and never in your personal house to cut back the prospect that you could be unfold COVID-19 to different individuals,” the advisory says, noting that asymptomatic individuals can nonetheless unfold the illness.

Baker’s administration additionally ordered all Massachusetts hospitals to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures starting subsequent Monday.

And the governor will activate as much as 500 members of the Massachusetts Nationwide Guard to offer non-clinical assist to hospitals, resembling driving ambulances, monitoring sufferers, or delivering meal trays. As much as 300 of these Guard members will start coaching this week and be deployed Monday to 55 acute care hospitals and 12 ambulance service suppliers in Massachusetts.

“There’s no query the following few weeks will likely be enormously troublesome for our well being care neighborhood,” Baker stated throughout a press convention Tuesday morning on the State Home in Boston.

“There are workers shortages, sicker sufferers, and fewer step down beds accessible, due to these workers shortages,” he stated. “The steps we’re saying at present are designed to assist them in order that they will proceed to look after sufferers.”

On Monday, Massachusetts reported 13,717 new COVID-19 circumstances over the previous three days, with hospitalizations because of the illness surpassing 1,500 for the primary time since early February. State knowledge exhibits that over 90 p.c of the 8,764 accessible hospital beds in Massachusetts are presently occupied.

For weeks, as COVID-19 circumstances rose, Baker has confronted strain from public well being specialists and native elected officers to reimpose a statewide masks mandate to stem the spike in infections, as many cities and cities in Massachusetts did so on their very own, making a patchwork of differing guidelines.

The up to date masks advisory doesn’t have the authorized authority of a mandate; just like the state’s most up-to-date masks mandate, there isn’t a menace of fines or enforcement for many who disregard the advice. Nevertheless, masks do stay necessary in sure locations, like public transit, well being care services, and most faculties.

Baker has repeatedly declined to say if he thinks the state might reimpose a masks mandate with out once more declaring a COVID-19 state of emergency. And on Tuesday, he stated he has “no curiosity” in reimposing such an order.

“If locals want to pursue various choices, they will achieve this,” Baker stated. “We issued a masks mandate final fall as a result of we had no different choices accessible to us. At this time limit, we now have vaccines, we now have fast assessments, we now have our testing websites, and folks know much more about what works and what doesn’t with respect to combating this virus.”

The Baker administration has continued to notably emphasize vaccination as the trail out of the pandemic, together with the present omicron spike.

“Individuals in Massachusetts know, at this level, that masking is among the instruments they will pursue in the event that they select to take action to guard themselves,” Baker stated.

“However let’s not overlook 5 million individuals in Massachusetts are totally vaccinated,” he added. “And the vaccines are by far the best instrument we now have within the toolbox to guard each other from COVID.”

The state launched knowledge Monday exhibiting that, whereas 2 p.c of all vaccinated people in Massachusetts have been contaminated with COVID-19, almost 97 p.c of these breakthrough circumstances didn’t end in loss of life or hospitalization.

Since late August, unvaccinated people have been 5 instances as more likely to contract COVID-19 than totally vaccinated people — and 31 instances extra more likely to get the illness than those that have gotten a booster shot.

The assessment additionally discovered that 99.9 p.c of breakthrough circumstances amongst totally vaccinated individuals underneath the age of 60 didn’t end in loss of life; for these over 60, over 97 p.c of breakthrough circumstances didn’t end in loss of life. And no deaths have been reported in breakthrough circumstances amongst these underneath the age of 30.

Officers reiterated Tuesday that getting a vaccine and booster stay one of the simplest ways to guard towards critical sickness or hospitalization from COVID-19.

“I do know we’re all feeling the pangs of pandemic fatigue,” Well being and Human Companies Secretary Marylou Sudders stated throughout the press convention Tuesday.

“However as all of us put together to assemble with our family members, a practice lengthy overdue and that has been interrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s necessary for all of us to keep in mind that the vaccine and boosters are extremely efficient at defending towards critical sickness, hospitalization, and loss of life,” she stated.

State knowledge exhibits that over 89 p.c of all the Massachusetts inhabitants has not less than one dose of a vaccine (together with 94 p.c of residents over the age of 5) and that 74 p.c of all the inhabitants is totally vaccinated.

Simply over 1.8 million individuals — or about 36 p.c of the totally vaccinated inhabitants — have gotten a further booster shot.

Baker administration officers attribute the present pressure on the well being care system to a confluence of points, not simply rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.

They are saying the staffing scarcity has successfully resulted within the lack of 500 hospital beds. Officers additionally level to a rise in sufferers for non-COVID-19 causes. Many delay in search of remedy throughout the pandemic, main their illnesses to worsen and leading to longer hospital stays. And even earlier than the pandemic, well being care officers stated they might see a rise in sufferers this time of yr.

Earlier this month, the Baker administration had ordered hospitals with lower than 15 p.c of beds accessible to cut back elective procedures by 50 p.c. Sudders stated Tuesday that the brand new order to place off all procedures is meant to “keep and enhance inpatient capability.”

“I need to be clear: Our hospitals stay able to look after the pressing wants of the residents of the commonwealth,” she stated.

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