Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders held a press conference on December 21 to provide updates on COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.
The administration announced that the mask guidance has been updated to recommend that face coverings are worn in indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. It was also announced that up to 500 National Guard members will be available to respond to calls across the state.
Sudders said that with the staffing shortage in hospitals, the National Guard will help fill in the gaps, leaving more health care professionals “to provide higher levels of care,” she said.
Sudders also said that as of December 27, elective procedures will need to be canceled or postponed.
“Our hospitals remain ready to care for the urgent needs of the residents of the Commonwealth,” Sudders said.
With cases rising sharply and the emergence of the Omicron variant, the state is encouraging residents to wear face coverings in indoor settings, but it is not a requirement.
Sudders added that the “vaccine and boosters are highly effective in protecting against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.”
Governor Baker thanked healthcare workers for all that they do. “You’re working in wildly challenging and difficult times,” he said, also thanking the National Guard for their support.
He said that with various anxieties floating around related to the pandemic, he reassured residents that the tools that are now available, especially vaccines and testing, are the best defense against the virus.
“Going to school is safe,” Baker said, adding that it’s “also healthy for children to be with each other and with trained, caring adults.”
He also said that “we know vaccines work,” and that out of five million fully vaccinated Massachusetts residents, “only two percent” have tested positive for the virus, and “97 percent of breakthrough cases never end up in a hospital.”
Nearly two million Massachusetts residents have gotten a third dose of the vaccine, Baker said, and those who are unvaccinated are “31 times more likely to just test positive than someone with that third dose.” The “vast majority of people” hospitalized with the virus have not been vaccinated.”
He continued, “all that means, among other things, is that we know for sure that vaccines offer tremendous protection from illness, better than any other measure.”
Baker said that at-home rapid tests are available at various sites throughout the state, and “hundreds of testing sites” statewide are ready to serve residents. More than two million free rapid tests have been distributed statewide. “Use them before you get together with your friends and others,” he said.
He told residents to don masks indoors, and said that resources that were not available a year ago are helping to save lives and keep people safe.
The updated mask guidelines are effective as of December 21, and” The DPH particularly urges this recommendation if you have a weakened immune system, or if you are at increased risk for severe disease because of your age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated,” according to the state website.
Masks are still required in places like health care settings and on public transit.
“A new case today does not mean the same thing a new case meant a year ago,” Baker said. “Vaccinated people may test positive, but their chances of dying or getting seriously ill—they pale in comparison to so many riskier behaviors out there. If you’re boosted, your risk of getting sick is even lower.”
Baker said that when it comes to celebrating the holidays with family and friends, “getting vaccinated and getting a booster if you’re eligible is the best thing you can do this holiday season for you and your family.”
For more information, visit mass.gov/covid19.