Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday urged Massachusetts residents not to gather in groups during the upcoming holidays, saying such activities over Thanksgiving led to a significant spike in coronavirus cases.
Baker said a surge of new coronavirus cases since Thanksgiving has put a "significant strain" on the health care system, and warned the situation could worsen after December's holidays, threatening to dampen optimism following the arrival this week of vaccine shipments to the state.
"It's pretty simple," Baker said in a press conference. "The safest way to celebrate this year is with members of your own household and to postpone or cancel any travel plans and to avoid gatherings with people you don't live with. Any type of celebration beyond that has real potential, as we saw with Thanksgiving, to spread the virus and hurt the ones we love the most."
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"I'm pretty sure I'm stating the obvious this year, but the holidays won't be the same as they've been before," he added. "We really can't have them be the the kind of consequential event that Thanksgiving has been in Massachusetts."
He pointed out that on Dec. 1, four days after Thanksgiving, the state was averaging about 2,400 new COVID-19 cases each day. A week later, about 10 days after Thanksgiving, the average number of daily new cases had nearly doubled to almost 4,800, Baker said.
Baker said coronavirus hospitalizations have increased by 93% over the past three weeks and the number of patients in intensive care units have increased by 73%. Since Thanksgiving, 689 people have died to COVID-19 in Massachusetts.
Health officials were expected to issue new guidance later Tuesday on how to safely celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's.
Baker urged people not to travel or gather with people outside their immediate households. Those who do attend gatherings should wear masks, open windows and practice hygiene and social distancing.
Baker said he was expecting federal authorities to ship over 53,000 doses to several hospitals in the state Tuesday, in addition to the 6,000 first does received Monday. These are part of the first 300,000 doses expected to arrive in the state by the end of the year.
The first group of recipients will include healthcare workers, people in long-term care, and first responders, as well as inmates at correctional facilities.
The second phase will likely begin in February and targets those with underlying health problems, people over the age of 65 and essential workers like grocery store employees and teachers.
Phase three is for everyone else and is set to start in April.
Baker said about 120,000 doses expected to arrive this month are expected to be from Moderna, which is still waiting to receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA said Tuesday its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. A panel of outside experts is expected to vote to recommend the formula on Thursday, with the FDA’s green light coming soon thereafter.
The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths rose by 37 on Monday while the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by more than 3,500.
The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 11,135 and its confirmed caseload since the start of the pandemic to more than 283,000.
There were more than 1,700 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 350 in intensive care units. The average age of those hospitalized was 69.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 7,021.
With widespread vaccination still months away, health experts and doctors say it may not be long before a total shutdown of the state's economy becomes necessary.
Baker has said all along that he will let the public health data guide his decisions on whether to roll back reopening any further. On Sunday, a series of new restrictions went into effect, including a statewide rollback to Phase 3, Step 1 of the state's reopening plan. New restrictions on restaurants and outdoor gatherings were also included in the latest round of COVID-19 regulations.
Hospital leaders and other medical experts told the Boston Globe that additional restrictions or a full shutdown could become a reality by the end of this month.