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Governor Rolls Back Gathering Limits to Prevent COVID-19 Spread

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — The governor is implementing tighter restrictions on gatherings, dropping capacity limits to 25 percent for businesses and industries and limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 10 and outdoor gatherings to 25. 
The regulations go into effect on Saturday, Dec. 26, as the state attempts to limit the pandemic fallout from the Christmas holiday.
"Together, the intent of the these restrictions will be to pause activity and reduce mobility, so we can reduce the spread of the virus, without closing our schools, or our businesses," said Gov. Charlie Baker at Tuesday's pandemic briefing. 
Occupancy limits apply to restaurant seating capacity, personal services, theaters and performance venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail businesses, lodging common areas, libraries, museums and indoor recreation, fitness and entertainment facilities. Occupancy limits do not include employees and staff for restaurants, places of worship, close contact personal services, and retail businesses.
These restrictions do not effect K-12 education, which already has protocols in place. 
The gathering limits do apply to both public and private gatherings. Contact tracing has found home gatherings as the largest factor in transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Hospitals also must postpone or cancel all non-essential inpatient elective invasive procedures unless postponement would lead to high risk or significant clinical decline of an individual's health, and not schedule any new procedures unless there is a health risk. 
"To be clear, we are not shutting down health care," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. "Ambulatory outpatient procedures, pediatric appointments are not impacted inpatient and emergency services. We take this important next step to preserve inpatient bed capacity, clinical resources include staffing, to redeploy staff as necessary and to prepare for flex surge capacity as needed."
Baker said the decision to limit occupancy was based on the outcomes from the Thanksgiving holiday that saw a surge in cases statewide despite restrictions including a stay-at-home advisory in early November that has since been extended into January. 
"Many of these steps were effective in slowing the growth of new infections. But unfortunately, that progress was temporary. After Thanksgiving, infections  and then hospitalization skyrocketed," he said. "And since then, we've seen that increase slow down slightly, but certainly not enough."
Prior to Thanksgiving, hospital and acute care beds were about 67 percent occupied, and by Dec. 15 that  had shot up to around 83 percent. The governor said it's only recovered one percentage point since that peak.
"Hospitals are now under significant pressure and we're heading toward another period, this holiday stretch, where we're likely to see another significant increase in cases and hospitalizations unless everybody plays a very different game than the one we all played at Thanksgiving," he said. "As a result, we think it's appropriate to take action now to slow that spread. And we must do so in a way that can avoid over running our hospital system."
Sudders said the 50-bed field hospital set up at the DCU Center in Worcester currently has 26 and has discharged 100 patients since its reopening last month. The average stay has been four days. A second field hospital will be opened in the coming weeks; the state is still seeking staffing for these hospitals, especially nurses and patient care associates. 
The governor stressed the need to continue to social distance, wear masks and wash hands, especially around people with whom you do not regularly share a home. Numerous warnings had been issued about travel and gatherings at Thanksgiving and within seven days of the holidays saw a big bump in cases and later hospitalizations, he said. 
Christmas and New Year's are posing the same potential for COVID-19 transmission. 
Baker said his administration is in frequent contact with hospital officials who have seen "intergenerational transmission" taking place from families not taking precautions, for example college students coming home and then their older family members ending up in the emergency room. 
"Here we are, coming into this second big season with respect to the holiday. ... People really need to spend this in a very conservative and cautious and careful way," he said. "We believe reducing occupancy across the vast majority of venues in Massachusetts to 25 percent A) will accomplish that in many of those places that abide by those rules because it will dramatically limit the number of people in those places at any one time, and B) sends a pretty loud signal that people need to take this seriously."


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