BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts hospitals will soon put a temporary halt to in-patient elective surgeries that can safely be postponed, and the state will expand free testing throughout the state to help fight a rising tide of new coronavirus cases, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday.
“Massachusetts is now experiencing a rapid increase in new positive cases in the wake of Thanksgiving and, in turn, the number of people becoming ill and needing hospitalization is also increasing,” the Republican governor said at a news conference.
“We can’t afford to continue to strain the hospital system at this rate,” he added.
The temporary halt to elective surgeries will start Friday and the goal is to free up medical staff and beds, he said.
Ambulatory out-patient surgeries and procedures will be allowed to continue, state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said.
Baker also announced a multi-faceted effort to expand the state's testing capacity to 110,000 tests per week.
The plan includes expanded testing in western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, where leaders have expressed frustration over a lack of testing capacity. More testing is coming to Amherst, Great Barrington, Greenfield, North Adams, and Pittsfield, the governor said.
The state has allocated more than $150 million for free COVID-19 testing, including surveillance testing programs in congregate settings and investments in laboratory capacity to process samples, according to the governor's office.
Baker is coming under mounting pressure from public health experts and municipal leaders to do more to control the dramatic increase in coronavirus cases.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a tweet over the weekend that while he has defended Baker's response in the past, he's “aghast" at the lack of action over the past six weeks and called for tighter restrictions.
“Over the last six weeks it's become very clear that we are heading towards a really bad surge of infections ... and the response from the governor's office has been wholly inadequate," he said.
Jha said hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, yet “casinos and tanning salons are still open.”
The the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Massachusetts has risen over the past two weeks from almost 2,654 on Nov. 22 to more than 4,554 on Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Some municipal leaders are open to more business closures but say it can't be done piecemeal. If restaurants in one city are closed, people will simply go to another town.
Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee is in favor of what calls a “reasonable rollback" but said the state must lead.
“I don’t want to speak for the administration,” McGee told The Boston Globe, but “we can’t make those kinds of decisions individually. ... It can’t be one community here, one community there.”
Baker at a news conference Monday suggested more restrictions may be on the way.
Two U.S. senators from New England want to press more states to institute mask requirements.
Sens. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, have introduced the Encouraging Masks for All Act.
The legislation would provide an additional $5 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for states that implement mask requirements.
It would also make $75 million in grants available for states to use to promote mask mandates and provide face coverings to those who need them.
Markey said he is “fully supportive” of President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days after he takes office in January.
“But we should not wait until then to arm ourselves with this protection,” Markey said Friday according to the Boston Herald. “Thirteen states across our country still do not have mask mandates in place, and that’s dangerous.”
State health officials on Monday reported 30 additional deaths and more than 2,400 new cases of COVID-19.
The state Department of Health data also shows that there are more than 58,400 active cases of the virus in the state, of which about 1,500 are in the hospital.
Massachusetts’ seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has also risen over the past two weeks, from 2,653 a day on Nov. 22 to 4,554 on Dec. 6.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks, from 3% on Nov. 22 to 5.3% on Dec. 6.