The omicron variant is fueling another COVID-19 surge and Massachusetts hospitals will be instructed to push back non-essential elective procedures, but Gov. Charlie Baker wants the public to know he does not view the current trends as a repeat of last winter.
While outlining new steps his administration would take to boost health care capacity and limit the spread of COVID-19, Baker on Tuesday indicated that he does not want residents to cancel their holiday plans nor schools to return to remote models that keep kids out of classrooms, a shift that the governor said caused "terrible damage."
More than 5 million Massachusetts residents became fully vaccinated against the virus over the course of 2021, and providers so far have administered more than 1.8 million booster doses. With that protection in place, Baker said, "a new case today does not mean the same thing a new case meant a year ago."
"The holiday season is here and opportunities to share special moments with people we love are also here," Baker said. "The people of Massachusetts sacrificed those moments when hunkering down was truly our only defense. That's no longer the case thanks to the protection afforded to all of us by vaccines. Getting vaccinated and getting a booster if you're eligible is the best thing you can do this holiday season for you and your family."
Baker said the "vast majority" of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Massachusetts involve patients who have not received vaccines, which he said offer "tremendous protection from illness."
More on Baker's Announcement
The governor will activate up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to serve as non-medical personnel in health care facilities amid a critical staffing shortage.
Asked if Massachusetts had a need to stand up field hospitals once again, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said staffing shortages and site availability pose a challenge for field hospitals around the country.
"We've lost 500 acute care beds in Massachusetts because of staffing shortages, so by providing the non-medical side (with the National Guard), it will hopefully allow them the capacity and the ability to open up additional beds," Sudders said.
The Department of Public Health on Tuesday also issued an updated mask advisory that recommends, but does not require, everyone cover their faces in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Baker said he has "no interest" in imposing a stricter mandate "given all the tools that are available on a statewide basis."
Read more on Massachusetts' mask advisory here.