The Baker administration announced additional measures Tuesday to address a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and to ensure that hospitals have enough capacity to care for COVID and non-COVID patients.
The state's healthcare system is facing a critical staffing shortage which has led to the loss of 500 medical/surgical and intensive care unit hospital beds since the beginning of the year. Hospitals are also seeing a high level of patients, many for non-COVID related reasons.
Here's a look at the moves announced by Gov. Charlie Baker:
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What does the new Massachusetts mask guidance say?
The Department of Public Health released an updated mask advisory Tuesday, recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor, public spaces.
DPH particularly urges this recommendation for individuals who have a weakened immune system, or are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
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All people in Massachusetts (regardless of vaccination status) are required to continue wearing face coverings in certain settings, including transportation and health care facilities. Please see here for a complete list of venues where face coverings have remained mandatory since May 29, 2021.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s current mask requirement and Policy on Vaccination Rate Threshold issued on Sept. 27, 2021 is not impacted by this advisory.
You can read the full advisory below:
Where else do I have to wear a mask in Massachusetts?
Since May 29, 2021, masks have been required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at all times in the following locations, subject to the exemptions listed below:
- On Public and Private Transportation, including on the MBTA, commuter rail, buses, ferries, and airplanes, and while in rideshares (Uber and Lyft), taxis, and livery vehicles, as required by the Centers for Disease Control Jan. 29, 2021 Order. Face coverings are also required at all times in transportation hubs, including train stations, bus stops, and airports. The requirement applies to riders and workers.
- Healthcare facilities licensed or operated by the Commonwealth and healthcare practice locations of any provider licensed by a professional board which sits within the Department of Public Health or the Division of Professional Licensure. These settings include nursing homes, rest homes, emergency medical services, hospitals, physician and other medical and dental offices, urgent care settings, community health centers, vaccination sites, behavioral health clinics, and Bureau of Substance and Addiction Services facilities. This requirement applies to patients, residents, staff, vendors and visitors.
- Congregate care facilities or programs operated, licensed, certified, regulated, authorized, or funded by the Commonwealth. These settings include the common areas of assisted living residences, group homes, residential treatment programs, and facilities operated, licensed, certified, regulated, authorized, or funded by the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Youth Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Veterans’ Services, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. This requirement applies to clients, residents, staff, vendors and visitors.
- Emergency shelter programs, including individual and family homeless shelters, domestic violence and sexual assault shelters, veterans’ shelters, and shelters funded by the Department of Housing and Community Development. This requirement applies to guests, staff, vendors and visitors.
- Houses of Correction, Department of Correction prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities. This requirement applies to people who are detained or incarcerated, staff, vendors and visitors.
- Health Care and Day Services and Programs operated, licensed, certified, regulated, or funded by the Commonwealth including the Executive Office of Health and Human Services or one of its agencies. These settings include adult day health, day habilitation, Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, psychosocial rehabilitation club houses, brain injury centers and clubhouses, day treatment, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, recovery support centers and center-based day support programs. This requirement applies to staff, visitors, vendors and consumers.
- Home health care workers, including Personal Care Attendants and Home Health Aides in community and home-based settings where they are providing patient-facing care; provided, however, the requirement shall only apply to the worker providing care.
The following people are exempt from the face coverings requirement:
- Children under 5 years old.
- People for whom a face mask or covering creates a health risk or is not safe because of any of the following conditions or circumstances:
- the face mask or covering affects the person’s ability to breathe safely;
- the person has a mental health or other medical diagnosis that advises against wearing a face mask or covering;
- the person has a disability that prevents them from wearing a face mask or covering; or
- the person depends on supplemental oxygen to breathe.
Why is the National Guard being activated?
Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard on Tuesday to address the non-clinical support needs of hospitals and transport systems. Up to 300 of these Guard members will begin training this week and will support 55 acute care hospitals, as well as 12 ambulance service providers across the Commonwealth.
DPH surveyed all hospitals and ambulance service providers, and in concert with the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, has identified five key roles that non-clinical Guard personnel can serve in support hospital operations for up to 90 days:
- Non-emergency transport between facilities: driving ambulances used to transfer patients between two healthcare locations such as when patients are discharged from a hospital and transferred to a long term care facility.
- Patient observers: providing continuous or frequent observation of a patient who is at risk for harm to themselves.
- Security support: helping to maintain a safe workplace.
- In-hospital transport: bringing patients via wheelchair or, if needed, stretcher, from their patient room to tests such as x-ray or CT scan, or from the emergency department to their inpatient floor.
- Food service/tray delivery support: delivering patient meals to their rooms
Guard personnel will be deployed to the field beginning Dec. 27, 2021.
What is the new guidance on elective surgeries?
DPH released updated guidance to hospitals concerning nonessential, elective invasive procedures. To preserve health care personnel resources, effective 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 27, all hospitals are directed to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity.
Patients are reminded to still seek necessary care at their hospital or from their health care provider.
You can read the guidance below: