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State officials working to set up field hospitals to treat rising number of COVID-19 patients, Baker says

Gov. Baker. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/FILE (metro)
Gov. Baker. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/FILE (metro)John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

With COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions on the rise in Massachusetts, state officials are working to once again set up field hospitals to treat patients if more capacity is needed, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.

Speaking during his regular State House news conference, Baker said his team is working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to find “suitable locations” for the temporary hospitals, which will have the necessary supplies and be staffed by hundreds of medical professionals to treat COVID-19 patients, should the extra space be needed.

More details on the field hospitals will be released later this week, according to Baker, who also urged residents to continue taking precautions such as face coverings, hand washing, and physical distancing.

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“Controlling this virus depends, in many ways, on the everyday actions of everybody,” Baker said.

He said that on Labor Day, 178 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a figure that on Tuesday had climbed to 588.

“The trends obviously are going in the wrong direction,” Baker said.

He was joined Tuesday by Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center. Walsh urged the public to avoid getting “complacent” in complying with virus protocols.

“Wear a mask, practice physical distancing and hand hygiene,” Walsh said “Public health measures work, and together we can save lives.”

Another hospital leader at the briefing, Joseph “Jody” White, president and CEO of Lowell General Hospital and Circle Health, said it’s “no secret” that COVID cases have spiked since Labor Day.

“That is now leading to an increase in hospitalizations and rising fears across the Commonwealth of what a possible surge might look like,” White said, adding that he wanted people to have confidence that hospitals statewide “are safe and are prepared.

Multiple field hospitals were set up last spring to treat COVID-19 patients in Massachusetts to ease the strain on medical facilities, including Boston Hope, which was located at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport and treated about 500 patients.

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The last two patients were released from Boston Hope in early June.

Baker said Tuesday that reports of Pfizer and other companies having success with late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trials was “obviously welcome news” for the country and the world.

Massachusetts, Baker said, “will be ready to distribute a vaccine” once its ready.

Walsh, of Boston Medical Center, said her hospital is proud to be a site of the Pfizer vaccine trial.

“I know that through the state’s vaccine task force, those communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, including essential workers and those who live in multi-generational housing, will be prioritized as vaccines and other therapeutics become more readily available,” Walsh said.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also addressed the issue of who will be prioritized for initial doses of the vaccine, citing healthcare providers as well as older adults, those living in long-term care settings and people with compromised immune systems.

But the plan, she said, “depends on the allocation” of the vaccine to the state from the federal government.

“The good news in Massachusetts is, we distribute millions of vaccines every year,” Sudders said. “And we have a strong, strong vaccine infrastructure.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.