BOSTON — The nursing director at Mass General Hospital on Tuesday expressed a holiday wish on behalf of her colleagues across the commonwealth.
"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," Melissa Jocelyn said during a midday appearance with Gov. Charlie Baker at the State House.
"We know this is a lot to ask, but this is a price to pay so you can celebrate freely with your loved ones after the pandemic is over while keeping them safe."
Holiday gatherings were the focus of Tuesday's news conference, where Baker pleaded with Bay Staters to make sure the commonwealth does not see a repeat of the post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 cases.
"In the 10 days before Thanksgiving, Massachusetts was averaging roughly 2,500 positive tests per day," Baker said. "Thirteen days after Thanksgiving, [the seven-day average] nearly doubled to nearly 4,800 cases per day.
"Prior to Thanksgiving, our positive test rate was pretty stable and had consistently been somewhere in the 2 to 3 percent range, under 4 percent. Our current test rate, as most of you know, is around 5.7 percent."
Likewise, Massachusetts saw a 93 percent increase in hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus and an 84 percent in deaths post-Thanksgiving.
And the major end-of-year holidays were just getting started.
On Tuesday, the Department of Public Health released guidelines for safe celebrations of holidays like Hanukkah (Dec. 10-18), Christmas (Dec. 25), Kwanzaa (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) and New Year's Eve.
DPH did the same thing last month prior to Thanksgiving, but the concern on Tuesday was that too many Massachusetts residents ignored those recommendations. And with news of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program making headlines, the fear is that even more will approach the year-end holidays as if it is any other year.
"Later today, DPH will release guidance for safe celebrations during the holidays," Baker said. "But it's pretty simple. The safest way to celebrate this year is with members of your own household, to postpone or cancel any travel plans and to avoid gatherings of people you don't live with.
"Any type of celebration beyond that has real potential, as we saw with Thanksgiving, to spread the virus and hurt the ones we all love most."
Baker, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and MGH's Jocelyn each acknowledged that their fellow Bay Staters are experiencing COVID fatigue. But they emphasized the need for continued adherence to rules around face coverings, hygiene and social distance.
"We realize everyone is tired and exhausted," Jocelyn said. "In a hospital setting, we are also tired and exhausted. We are tired of seeing people dying on breathing machines. More sadly, even dying alone, where we use an iPad to connect a dying patient to their loved ones.
"We know you are tired, as it has been too long since you've been able to see your loved ones, and the tendency is just to give up and return to a sense of premature normalcy. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but remember, we are still in the tunnel."
As for the "light," in the form of a vaccine, Sudders and Baker talked Tuesday about implementation of the commonwealth's distribution plan, which sees the first wave of Pfizer vaccines being distributed to hospitals across the state. Berkshire Medical Center was expecting its shipment to arrive on Tuesday.
"So far, four hospitals have received about 6,000 first doses," Baker said. "Today, the commonwealth is expecting the federal government to ship 53,625 more doses to 17 more hospitals statewide. This is part of the first 300,000 first doses of the vaccine that are expected to arrive before the end of December."
Sudders again referred Massachusetts residents to the mass.gov/covidvaccine website for a full explanation of the various stages for distribution, which currently projects distribution to the general population starting some time in April.
During Tuesday's question and answer period, Jocelyn was asked whether, as a person of color, she had any concerns about receiving the COVID-19 vaccination herself, and she said she was looking forward to receiving it as soon as it became available to her.
"Personally, I do feel safe taking the vaccine," she said. "When I look at Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. I look at our scientific community. I look at our expert colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital. I am very confident taking the vaccine.
"I have an aunt who was very concerned. She's very concerned. It was a matter of me having the conversations with her. When we think about Tuskeegee [Ala.], when we think about the Henrietta Lacks and all those things, it's a matter of looking at the time when those things were happening versus now. There's a lot more transparency. There's a lot more honesty.
"Kizzmekia Corbett, I believe her name is, was a senior researcher helping create the vaccine. She's an African-American and also on Dr. Fauci's team. I think that helps reinforce a lot of the honesty and transparency around the development of the vaccine."
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