Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that he is extending coronavirus restrictions around gatherings and businesses in Massachusetts through Jan. 24.
"As we all know, Massachusetts is fighting its way through a second surge. Cases are growing and hospitalizations continue to climb," he said. "That puts a lot of pressure on our health care system and our hospitals."
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Over the past six weeks, Baker said hospitalizations have grown 145% and ICU admissions 111% And Hospitals that were about 65% occupied on Thanksgiving are now 84% occupied.
With that in mind, he also announced new steps Thursday to allow hospitals to expand their ICU capacity by requesting a temporary exemption to mandatory nurse-to-patient staff ratios.
This option will only be available to hospitals with a capacity of less than 20% who first attest to the state that they have suspended all nonessential elective invasive procedures.
Hospitals across the state are also being escalated from Tier 3 to Tier 4 status, meaning hospitals in the region will meet at least daily and continue to collaborate across regions where necessary to address capacity constraints.
The series of new rules enacted last month by Baker had been set to expire on Sunday. They took effect on Dec. 26 in the wake of the post-Thanksgiving spike in coronavirus cases.
"Our goal remains to keep these restrictions temporary," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Wednesday.
The new rules announced last month crack down on gatherings and businesses and require hospitals to halt most elective surgeries.
Restaurants, movie theaters, performance venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail businesses, fitness centers, health clubs, libraries, golf facilities, driving and flight schools, arcades, museums, and "sectors not otherwise addressed" are required to limit their customer capacity to a maximum of 25%.
All indoor gatherings and events are limited to 10 people, while all outdoor gatherings and events will be limited to 25 people. Workers and staff are excluded from events' occupancy counts. The gatherings limit applies to private homes, event venues and public spaces.
Massachusetts hospitals were also forced to push back or cancel most elective inpatient invasive procedures that are nonessential.
The new restrictions came just a few weeks after Baker announced that the state would move back a step in his phased reopening plan. That rollback meant capacity limits were lowered across an array of businesses, some indoor recreation venues were ordered to close again, and rules around mask-wearing and dining out were tightened.
Massachusetts reported 6,419 new confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday and an additional 99 deaths.
There have now been 12,563 confirmed deaths and 386,052 cases, according to the state Department of Public Health. Another 273 deaths are considered probably linked to COVID-19.
The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, on average, has slightly decreased to 8.25%, the department said.
The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has decreased to 2,416. Of that number, 442 were listed as being in intensive care units and 273 are intubated, according to DPH.