Expecting a rise in COVID-19 cases this fall, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that Massachusetts is prepared for the next stage of the months-long fight against coronavirus.
Baker said he did not think a second surge of the virus had arrived in the Bay State at this point, though daily COVID-19 case counts, rolling average positive test rates and hospitalization numbers are higher now than they were during a summer lull.
He and other administration officials stressed months of work building hospital capacity, testing capabilities and equipment stockpiles, progress that Baker said puts the state in "a strong position to be prepared for whatever comes next."
"We are in a very different position with respect to our ability to test and trace and isolate quarantine, and we have far better data that we can make available to our communities and to our health care system than we could last spring, and that we've done a lot of work in particular, with the health care community and the long-term care community, to sort of make them far more robust with respect to their ability to deal with whatever might come," Baker said. "I think it's important to remember that we are not where we were in March."
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Since the start of the pandemic, approximately 4.8 million tests have been administered to more than 2.4 million residents in Massachusetts. Growing from approximately 2,000 tests per day in March to about 13,000 a day in May, today approximately 65,000 tests are administered every day. A key driver in this success has been the Stop the Spread initiative, which has sites in 18 of the highest-risk communities. The Baker administration announced Tuesday that the Stop the Spread initiative has been extended through December. As part of its readiness, the state now has the in-state lab capacity to process more than 100,000 tests per day if demand warrants. This level of testing, which has an average turnaround time of 1.8 days, is part of a strong readiness foundation to identify COVID, stop the spread and inform policy through data analysis.
In April, responding quickly to the increasing number of cases, the Commonwealth established the Contact Tracing Collaborative, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local boards of health and Partners in Health. Today, this network includes just under 2,000 workers who maintain regular connection with and support for individuals who are isolated in quarantine. A team of epidemiologists was recently added to CTC to investigate cases, identify the source of transmission and catch clusters early. To date, more than 100,000 people have been contacted.
Today, hospitals are required to continue adherence to the policies put in place upon reopening to ensure continued readiness, including inventories of PPE, ICU nursing staffing ratios and strict policies to ensure sufficient inpatient capacity. Massachusetts hospitals have approximately 50% ICU capacity available, plus additional beds can be made available by converting medical or surgical beds through established and proven procedures. Further, temporary spaces can be utilized again. In the spring, the state set up five alternative medical sites. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is prepared to rapidly reinstate these if necessary.
Long-term care facility readiness
Caring for older adults in long-term care facilities has been a priority since the earliest days of the pandemic. Early on, the state provided approximately 2.8 million pieces of PPE to nursing homes and opened dedicated COVID isolation spaces and facilities to safely cohort and protect residents and staff and help stop the spread. An additional measure to protect staff and residents, the state implemented a surveillance testing program ahead of federal guidance. From July 1 to Oct. 8, approximately 280,000 state financed tests for residents and staff have occurred. The Commonwealth has retained clinical rapid response teams if severe staffing shortages occur. The latest set of reforms, which include more than $400 million in new funding for infection control and staffing, build on the legislatively authorized Long Term Care Facility Commission’s report.
In the early days of the pandemic, the global supply chain struggled to deliver critical PPE. Massachusetts pursued every piece of this important protective measure and partnered with local manufacturers, which pivoted operations to support essential workers in a time of need. The Commonwealth has added millions of pieces of PPE to the state stockpile over the last several months with sufficient material to support medical institutions if their supplies run low through 2021. In addition to masks, gowns, gloves and other PPE, the stockpile includes approximately 1,200 ventilators, almost double the number on-hand in the spring. For perspective, the peak number of ICU patients was 1,085 in April.
After extensive consultation with infectious disease physicians and pediatricians, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided districts with detailed guidance on how to develop plans for safely delivering in-person instruction. The Department of Public Health developed town-by-town health metrics to guide school districts on whether to be fully in-person, hybrid, or remote, based on three weeks of community-wide data. Health officials have also made available rapid-response mobile testing for any school that experiences a COVID cluster. To help districts bring their children back to school, Baker allocated nearly $1 billion to municipalities and school districts, providing students with access to computers and connectivity. In collaboration with legislative leaders, the Baker administration has committed to increasing Chapter 70 school aid, adjusting for inflation and enrollment, to ensure stable funding even in this very challenging economic and fiscal climate.
State House News Service contributed to this report.