Facing mounting pressure in recent weeks from public health experts and municipal leaders to do more to control the dramatic increase in coronavirus cases that is stressing the health care system, Gov. Charlie Baker announced this week that Massachusetts would tighten some restrictions.
Starting Friday, hospitals across Massachusetts will be temporarily curtailing inpatient elective surgeries to make room for a further influx of patients with COVID-19.
Baker said Monday that hospitals will limit “elective procedures that can be safely postponed” in order to "free up necessary staffing and beds."
UMass Memorial Health Care President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson said he thinks this restriction is very unfortunate for the patients, many of whom had to put off their surgeries during the first surge and still haven't gotten them done.
Still, Dickson cautions, this will be very different from what happened in the commonwealth in the spring when the really broad action of shutting everything down included things like mammography and endoscopy.
Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett, vice chair of family medicine at Boston Medical Center, agrees, saying this measure is much more focused.
“We’re now talking about curtailing elective procedures where you have to use an inpatient bed -- in other words, procedures that can be put off and have no impact on your health,” she said.
This time around, outpatient procedures like mammograms, colonoscopies, endoscopies and pediatric visits will still continue, Gergen Barnet said.
“We know there are downstream consequences of not doing routine health care maintenance,” she said.
Gergen Barnett and Dickson agree that, while hospitals will take a financial hit, this decision by Baker makes sense for the short-term.
“He’s doing this because it will free up probably 10-20%, depending on the health care system, of the bed capacity in the hospitals such that there’ll be more room to take care of COVID patients,” Dickson said.
The hope is that this is only for a few months, as more and more people get vaccinated and the need for hospital beds goes down, he said.
There were more than 1,600 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 300 in intensive care units. The average age of those hospitalized was 69.
There are now 158 communities considered at the highest risk for transmitting the new coronavirus in Massachusetts, according to the latest weekly community-level data on the pandemic.
It's a new record and a massive increase of 61 from the 97 towns and cities in the report's red zone last week -- the numbers have steadily been increasing for weeks, as have coronavirus case numbers.
Massachusetts reported 5,130 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday and an additional 41 deaths. There have now been 10,963 confirmed deaths and 264,454 cases, according to the state's Department of Public Health.
The Associated Press contributed to this report