Baker Discusses New COVID Strain, Warns Against New Year's Eve Parties

"Please don't host big New Year's gatherings at your own home and do try to spend the time with people you live with," the governor said Wednesdday

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Gov. Charlie Baker discussed the new, highly-contagious strain of coronavirus and warned residents against holding New Year's Eve parties on Wednesday.

"Both Pfizer and Moderna said they don't believe this variant would have any less of an impact on the ability of their products to work," he said. "It is really the primary issue is not the strength of the new strain, it's the contagiousness. Obviously, the rules of the game we've talked about generally would apply, new contagion or not."

Governor Charlie Baker said that residents need to stay safe as we go into a new year.

The first case of the new and potentially more infectious strain of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States on Tuesday. The case was detected in a Colorado man in his 20s who does not have a history of traveling. The mutated strain was first identified in the U.K. and is believed to be the ause of the country's recent spike in cases.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the situation very closely, and giving guidance to states.

"It's highly, highly contagious, so we just assume that as we know we have community transmission in Massachusetts, we need everyone to engage in those good public health measures we know are effective," she said.

A new strain of COVID-19 prompting lockdowns in the U.K. could already be in the U.S.

The governor also said Wednesday that it's critical that people don't attend parties with people outside of their own households, especially at a time when hospitalizations are rapidly increasing across the state.

"As we approach New Year's to close out 2020 -- finally -- we're again urging everyone if they can to stay home," Baker said. "Please don't host big New Year's gatherings at your own home and do try to spend the time with people you live with. And if you do do anything, try to do it outside and make it brief."

"With the vaccines just getting here and a slightly different outlook for next year in front of us, it's important not to let our guard down," he added. "Basically, follow through with respect to all of the rules and guidance that has been issued over the course of the past 10 months or so."

Beginning Saturday, Massachusetts businesses will only be able to operate at 25% capacity, down from 40%. The gathering limit is also being reduced to 10 people inside and 25 outside under Gov. Charlie Baker's latest round of restrictions.

Despite some bumps in the road in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process, Baker said he still anticipates Massachusetts will receive the 300,000 doses it originally expected by the end of the year and that the state's vaccine rollout timeline should remain on track. The state has received about 86,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 146,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, he said, with another 68,000 allocated to a long-term care vaccination program in partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

Vaccination began in long-term care facilities Monday, and Baker said there will be more than 50 long-term care vaccine clinics this week with an estimated 20,000 individuals getting their first dose in that time period. The first vaccines were administered Tuesday at the state-run soldiers' homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, and Baker said that as of Wednesday morning, everyone in those facilities who wanted a shot has received one.

Baker said his administration plans to provide more information next week about vaccinating first responders, and Sudders said a meeting is planned Thursday with first responders and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to discuss draft plans.

Firefighters on Tuesday criticized the intended approach for first-responder vaccination, saying that local boards of health "are not structurally prepared" for it. Baker said the ultimate approach will need to work from an administrative and data-reporting perspective, and take into account that communities structure their public safety programs in different ways.

CVS Health began administering the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday at about 2,000 long term care facilities in Massachusetts.

State public health officials reported more than 3,600 new confirmed cases on Tuesday and 58 new confirmed deaths. The total number of cases in Massachusetts since the pandemic began now stands at over 346,000, and the death toll has risen to 11,958.

Meanwhile, the field hospital set up in the DCU Center in Worcester has treated 161 COVID-19 patients in 22 days, just one patient shy of the total treated in the six weeks the facility was open in the spring, officials said. A second field hospital is set to open Monday in Lowell.

Baker's new coronavirus restrictions took effect last weekend in Massachusetts. They include a crack down on gatherings and businesses and a requirement that hospitals halt most elective surgeries.

Starting Dec. 26 and running until at least noon on Jan. 10, restaurants, movie theaters, performance venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail businesses, fitness centers, health clubs, libraries, golf facilities, driving and flight schools, arcades, museums, and "sectors not otherwise addressed" must limit their customer capacity to a maximum of 25%.

All indoor gatherings and events will be limited to 10 people, while all outdoor gatherings and events will be limited to 25 people. Workers and staff are excluded from events' occupancy counts. The gatherings limit applies to private homes, event venues and public spaces.

Massachusetts hospitals must push back or cancel most elective inpatient invasive procedures that are nonessential as well, the state announced.

The Associated Press and State House News Service contributed to this report.

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