With the second surge of the coronavirus showing no signs of letting up, Gov. Charlie Baker is implementing several new measures to slow the spread, raising concerns among about whether more stringent restrictions are on the horizon.
Baker announced Monday the state was reopening a second field hospital, beefing up coronavirus testing and limiting certain surgeries to ease the strain the state's health care system. The measures came as local politicians and health experts criticized the administration over what they described lack of action as case numbers continue to explode.
Massachusetts smashed its single-day coronavirus cases record twice last week. Baker said the number of cases "took off like a rocket" about a week after people gathered for the Thanksgiving holiday despite public health officials' warnings not to spend time indoors with people outside their bubbles.
He acknowledged those calls Monday, hinting that more restrictions could be coming soon without going into detail.
The increase in coronavirus testing will bring the state up to a capacity of 110,000 tests per week, doubling the state's capacity, across 50 testing sites. The push includes five new Stop the Spread testing locations and the expansion of sites in New Bedford, Framingham and Lynn so they can each test up to 1,000 people per day.
Preparations are underway to reopen the second field hospital in Massachusetts at UMass Lowell's Campus Recreation Center in conjunction with Lowell General Hospital. The facility was not used last spring when a similar field hospital was established.
The center closed for winter break Tuesday and will reopen to students in its original configuration by the first or second week of February, depending on the needed pandemic hospitalizations.
To avoid overwhelming the health care system, Baker took an initial step in rolling back some relaxed restrictions on elective procedures, which take effect Friday. Baker noted they aren't as stringent as the one put in place during the first coronavirus surge this spring.
New restrictions put off elective procedures that will take away beds, but do not apply to surgeries needed for sustaining someone's life or which, if missed, would hurt a person's wellbeing.
Meanwhile, restaurant owners are worried that they could bear the brunt of forthcoming rules.
Laurette Ndukwe said it hasn't been easy running Nzuko, her Caribbean-Mediterranean fusion restaurant in Framingham during the pandemic. She may have to shut it down.
“Every little change puts us at risk of not being able to operate,” said Ndukwe, who also owns Tap Tap in Waltham.
Ndukwe is fearful more state restrictions -- such as curtailing operating hours even more than they have been -- could be leveled against restaurants as coronavirus cases continue to spike in Massachusetts.
Baker expressed frustration as people continue to gathering despite warnings from health officials.
"If you’re going to be with people you don’t live with and you’re in situations and environments where masks are not already required, you need to put on a mask and keep your distance," Baker said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen 44% between Thanksgiving and this weekend. And while there were fewer new COVID-19 cases reported in Massachusetts Monday than in recent days, the state's total since the start of the pandemic has now crossed the 250,000 mark.
There were 2,463 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Monday, the Department of Public Health announced. Massachusetts also reported 30 more deaths from COVID-19.
Baker said he expects to have 300,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of the month and indicated he would reveal more detail on the state’s distribution plan Wednesday.