Governor Charlie Baker and his health and human services chief on Tuesday beseeched state residents to celebrate the coming holidays in-person with their households only and also detailed the timeline for the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Unfortunately, a few days after Thanksgiving, we started seeing significant increases in new COVID-cases and hospitalizations,” Baker said during his regular State House press conference. “It has put a significant strain on our health care community.”
Ten days before Thanksgiving, Baker said, the state was averaging about 2,500 new cases per day. Thirteen days after the holiday, he said, that number nearly doubled to nearly 4,800 per day.
“That’s a 96 percent increase in a little over a week,” Baker said, adding that COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past three weeks have jumped by 93 percent. “Patients in the ICU have increased by 73 percent and … we’ve also seen deaths increase by 84 percent since Thanksgiving.”
To reverse the trend, Baker said, residents should celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s in-person with only their households.
“I’m here today to say that we really can’t have them be the kind of consequential event that Thanksgiving has been here in Massachusetts,” Baker said.
His words were echoed by Melissa Jocelyn, nursing director at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“On behalf of all of our nurses and health care colleagues, I do want to join with the governor in asking, even begging, each of you to follow the state guidelines to refrain from gathering for the Christmas holidays,” Jocelyn said.
She conceded that many state residents are “tired” of the pandemic and its attendant restrictions.
“I will also share that the staff — the nurses, the patient care associates, the doctors, nurse practitioners — are tired and exhausted [by] seeing continuous loss every day,” Jocelyn said, adding that people who gather in crowds are increasing the risk of spreading the virus, “which also increases our hospital volumes, and that makes it very challenging to to provide care for all of our patients.”
On the vaccine front, Baker said an online dashboard tracking the arrivals and shipments of vaccine doses into the state is scheduled to go live next week. He said hospitals will report their vaccine data to the state Department of Public Health, which will record the number of vaccines administered in coordination with the state COVID-19 command center.
And in calling for scaled-down holiday celebrations, Baker stressed that there’s “hope on the horizon,” with four hospitals receiving about 6,000 vaccine doses Monday.
“Today the Commonwealth is expecting the federal government to ship about 53,625 more doses to 17 more hospitals statewide,” Baker said. “This is part of the first 300,000 first doses of the vaccine that are expected to arrive before the end of December. ... Today, the first health care workers in Massachusetts will be vaccinated.”
He said phase one of the distribution plan is “very much” underway.
“Clinical and non clinical health care workers providing direct and COVID-facing care are getting vaccinated first, so we can protect our health care system,” Baker said. “Vaccines are being delivered directly from the federal government to the hospitals, and in line with the state’s vaccine prioritization framework, hospitals have developed plans to vaccinate their relatives and staff members.”
Baker said officials expect this current vaccination phase to last several weeks, followed by “long term care families, rest homes, and assisted living facilities for both residents and staff,” and CVS and Walgreens will assist.
State officials, Baker said, anticipate that phase to start around Dec. 28, and pending the approval of Moderna’s emergency utilization authorization by the federal government, another 120,000 doses are expected to be delivered to the state in the coming weeks.
“These doses will be distributed to hospitals, community health centers, and other large ambulatory care practices,” Baker said.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also briefed reporters on the vaccine plan and tracking.
“We’ll be putting out who’s gotten the vaccines, the names of the facilities and the like,” Sudders said.
She said officials are focused in part on “ensuring that the vaccines go to where we ask them to go,” and “that hospitals and other facilities have the first and second doses in order to administer” them.
Boston Medical Center got 1,950 vaccine doses Monday, leading staffers to literally dance outside the South End hospital. All told, 17 other hospitals across Massachusetts were slated Tuesday to receive their initial share of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine.
But despite the welcome news on the vaccine front, several municipalities on Monday announced plans to roll back their reopening processes. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and mayors in Brockton, Lynn, Newton, and Somerville said they were moving to close down gyms, museums, and movie theaters as the COVID-19 infection rate increases.
More communities are expected to follow and impose modified versions of Phase 2, Step 2 of the state’s reopening plan this week. Boston will return to Phase 2 on Wednesday and remain in that status for three weeks; the timetables elsewhere vary.
Asked about the move Tuesday, Baker said “I want to give locals the ability, if they believe they need to be in a different place, to make that decision. Because not everybody in Massachusetts is in the same place all the time.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.