Mass. Not Shutting Down, But Slowing Down Amid COVID Surge

Starting Monday, some non-essential medical procedures are being put off and National Guard members are preparing to provide assistance at hospitals

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The last week of December in 2020 began with a "day of hope" and the launch of widespread COVID-19 vaccinations. A year later, 2021 is ending with a flood of new infections.

Postponements and cancellations are filling the news again. Infections forced many to alter their holiday plans, caused the NHL to put all of its games on hold, and left scores of travelers stranded at airports as the virus put a dent in airline workforces.

And starting Monday, some non-essential medical procedures are being put off to protect health care capacity.

Hundreds of Massachusetts National Guard soldiers will begin training this week to help ease the burden of hospitals grappling with staffing shortages amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Massachusetts recorded its highest single-day infections total on Friday with 10,040, breaking records that were set on Wednesday and Thursday. Department of Public Health officials on Monday plan to provide the latest snapshot of infections, hospitalizations and deaths at 5 p.m. when a report is due out reflecting data from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While vaccinations and boosters have helped reduce deaths, hospitalizations and people suffering severe illness due to COVID-19, the state has now posted more than 20,000 confirmed and probable deaths from a virus that arrived 21 months ago and has since mutated.

Also on Monday, hundreds of Massachusetts National Guard soldiers began training to help ease the burden of hospitals stretched thin by staffing shortages amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week he is activating up to 500 members of the National Guard to assist hospitals and directed hospitals to postpone or call all non-essential elective procedures to keep beds available. Guard members are expected to help with non-clinical support such as security and transportation.

An initial deployment of up to 300 Guard members are scheduled to help some of the state’s largest and most acclaimed medical facilities, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to regional facilities such as Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester and Milford Regional Medical Center, according to a list provided by the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Nearly 20 Guard members received orientation Monday morning before being deployed to several hospitals operated by Worcester-based UMass Memorial Health, system spokesperson Debora Spano said.

"We think these are excellent steps that Governor Baker is taking to keep our communities safe," UMass Memorial Health President and CEO Eric Dickson said in a written statement. "I know he is trying to consider all options to keep our economy going while protecting us from this virus."

Seventeen National Guard members have been deployed to Baystate Health hospitals — most at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield — where starting Tuesday they will be providing security, lobby and screener support, the system said in a statement.

In total, the National Guard will support 55 hospitals and 12 ambulance service providers across the state.

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

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