After hosting an oversight hearing that top state health officials skipped, high-ranking lawmakers are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to consider a menu of pandemic management options, including quarantine and isolation shelters and a pause on school mask mandate exemptions.
Baker on Tuesday introduced a masking advisory, outlined plans to have the National Guard assist the health care sector, and put a pause on non-essential, elective procedures at many hospitals. But the governor also said people should move ahead with holiday plans, citing gains made in the virus fight.
In a Tuesday letter to Baker, Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness Co-chairs Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. William Driscoll expressed support for the National Guard call-up but expressed concerns about numerous issues based on testimony they received last week.
"We have found ourselves in the mid-holiday season with increasingly high COVID transmission rates, along with at or near capacity hospitals throughout the state. We are still learning about the Delta variant and navigating its surge, and now the emerging Omicron variant could have monumental impacts given its potential increased transmissibility," they wrote. "Dr. Nahid Bhadelia reminded us that even if those who have been vaccinated generally become less ill with the virus, with exponential growth driven by Omicron, we could see real system destabilization due to surging numbers of critical patients, among them the unvaccinated and others in the minority of vaccinated patients who have comorbidities."
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On Wednesday morning, Comerford and Sen. Cindy Friedman, the vice chair of the committee, issued a statement saying they were in concert with the calls from Senate President Karen Spilka for the Baker administration to take a more aggressive approach to omicron.
"We have listened to the experts and it is clear that the administration must do more now. This includes supporting our hospitals by significantly reducing the time it takes to license doctors, nurses and hospital personnel coming from other states to increase our workforce. It includes significantly increasing outreach efforts in all communities with low vaccination rates," they wrote.
The senators added, "It is also essential that there be a consistent, thorough, and evidence-based process for all school systems to follow that keeps our children, teachers, and staff safe and in school. We also encourage the administration to make rapid testing easily available and affordable throughout the Commonwealth. And finally, we must join together to ensure residents have stable and safe housing, which we know is a critical component in stopping the spread of COVID-19."