Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that the Massachusetts health care system is under “immense pressure” due to the surge in COVID-19 cases that occurred in the wake of Thanksgiving.
And as the state enters the “brunt” of the holiday season, Baker says another surge threatens to overwhelm local hospitals.
“We’re basically begging everyone to stay within their immediate household over the course of this holiday season,” the Republican governor said during a press conference Monday afternoon.
His comments come eight days after all communities in Massachusetts rolled back to the first step of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, a step that some Democratic lawmakers criticized as too “modest.”
During the press conference Monday, the governor said that “every option is on the table,” using similar language as he did before announcing the last round of new restrictions.
“We’re currently reviewing additional steps that we can take to try to minimize the impact of all this,” Baker said.
In addition to the statewide reopening rollback, Baker also issued tightened face-covering restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and offices that took effect last Sunday — though state officials have repeatedly argued that the primary setting of COVID-19 transmission is private residences, between family members and friends.
Baker’s administration released guidelines for celebrating the December holidays last week, which strongly discouraged inter-household gatherings and travel.
The governor reiterated Monday that those who do decide to gather with people outside their household should wear a mask, maintain distance, and not share food or drink.
“We’re not asking people to do this forever; we’re asking them to do it for the next 10 or 12 days,” Baker said, adding that we “simply can’t afford to have another spike … while we’re still dealing with the spike that came from Thanksgiving.”
Massachusetts reported 4,162 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, and the state’s positive test rate continues to hover around 6 percent. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also climbed above 1,900 in Massachusetts, which is roughly half the peak from the spring.
Baker said Monday that the post-Thanksgiving uptick in cases and hospitalizations had “slowed slightly but not enough, by any means, especially with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays coming up, where we unfortunately anticipate there could be another significant surge.”
“If the second holiday season produces a surge in infections … that’s similar to the one that came out of Thanksgiving, we’ll be in serious danger of overwhelming our health care system,” he said.
State officials are currently discussing the possibility of opening a third field hospital in the South Coast area, after reopening two such facilities in Worcester and Lowell to deal with less serious COVID-19 patients. Across the state, hospitals are at upwards of 80 percent capacity, according to the Department of Public Health’s report Sunday.
Some cities in Massachusetts, including Boston, have taken action themselves, closing higher-risk indoor venues like gyms and movie theaters. The Baker administration also announced the disbursement of over 1,000 grants for small businesses affected by the pandemic-induced recession, as part of the state’s previously announced economic recovery plan.
Baker — who has faced calls to temporarily close indoor dining and casinos as some other states have in response to the latest surge — declined to discuss any specific potential statewide steps, again putting the emphasis on individual actions.
“The most important point I can make here is what we all choose to do as individuals will have as big an impact on this as anything that we can do as a commonwealth,” he said, urging residents to follow the holiday guidance.
“With respect to what else we might be able to do, we’re certainly discussing that,” Baker added, “and we”ll have more to say about it later this week.”