Amid Delta-fueled COVID-19 uptick, Charlie Baker says he isn’t planning to reissue mask mandate

Health 22 July, 2021 - 12:40pm 26 views

By Nik DeCosta-Klipa

Don’t expect mask rules to get tightened in Massachusetts anytime soon.

As local jurisdictions across the country — and in Massachusetts — ask residents to resume mask wearing in indoor public places regardless of their vaccination status in response to the national increase in COVID-19 cases fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that his administration isn’t considering any such statewide action.

“No, we’re not looking at changing any of our existing rules or policies,” Baker told reporters following a press conference Thursday morning in Sandwich.

Since May 29, the state’s rules have asked unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask when in crowded or indoor public places, but allow fully vaccinated to go maskless, except for certain places like public transit systems and health care facilities.

Baker’s comments come after Provincetown and Nantucket issued advisories this week strongly recommending all residents and visitors wear masks indoors, as the Cape and Islands weather a spike in cases in the midst of peak tourist season. Officials in Nantucket noted that the Delta variant has shown a “high ability” to infect even vaccinated individual, most likely due to “prolonged exposure, indoors and at high concentrations.”

Baker reiterated Thursday that it was “appropriate” for local communities to take more aggressive action in response to local outbreaks, but that it didn’t necessitate a change to statewide policy.

“We have a set of statewide standards, and they’re based on what we see on a statewide basis,” the governor said.

After averaging fewer than 70 new COVID-19 cases a day in June, Massachusetts reported 457 new confirmed infections Wednesday and is averaging 244 new cases a day. According to data published Thursday by Axios, the state has seen the fifth-biggest percentage increase in cases in the country over the past week.

Still, as Baker noted Thursday, hospitalizations, which have climbed slightly since early July, remain very low, compared to other states, as well as the levels at the height of the pandemic in Massachusetts.

“In Massachusetts, there are states that are running COVID case counts that are 30 and 40 times higher than they are here in Massachusetts — same with respect to hospitalizations,” Baker said. “And I think what’s got to be the rule of thumb here is that people make decisions based on the current state of play with respect to the virus in their states, and we’re in a very different place than most other parts of the country.”

Breakthrough infections have accounted for nearly a third of all recent cases in Massachusetts, which health officials argue is somewhat expected given the state’s high vaccination rate. Additionally, more than 90 percent of statewide breakthrough infections have been relatively mild (not involving hospitalization or death), which officials say is evidence of the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Nationwide, with more than 57 percent of eligible Americans fully vaccinated, over 99 percent of recent COVID-19 deaths have been among unvaccinated individuals.

Baker noted that Massachusetts is only second to Vermont for the highest vaccination rate in the country and “a mile” ahead of other big states. Still, he urged unvaccinated residents to get their shots.

“The vaccines are overwhelmingly effective,” he said. “If you look at the number of people have been hospitalized who’ve been vaccinated, it’s a very small number. And not just here in the commonwealth but across the country, the difference between the impact of COVID on those that are vaccinated and those who aren’t is stark and profound.”

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VIDEO: Provincetown, MA experiences COVID surge

WFSB 3 22 July, 2021 - 03:01pm

Provincetown COVID Cluster Climbs To 256 Cases

CBS Boston 22 July, 2021 - 03:01pm

Provincetown COVID-19 outbreak jumps to 256 cases

WCVB Channel 5 Boston 22 July, 2021 - 03:01pm

Baker: No Plans to Bring Back Mass. COVID Restrictions Despite Rising Cases

NBC10 Boston 22 July, 2021 - 09:31am

Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he has no plans to bring back coronavirus restrictions in Massachusetts as two communities on Cape Cod have issued mask advisories amid a spike in cases.

"We're not looking at changing any of our existing rules or policies," Baker said. "We have a set of statewide standards and they're based on what we see on a statewide basis. And if communities believe they need to pursue strategies that are more effective and appropriate for them, that they should do so, and that's exactly what Provincetown did."

He also said he has no plans to change mask guidance for school in the fall, despite a call from some lawmakers to revive a school mask mandate amid the spread of the Delta variant.

Back from a recent trip to Colorado, Baker was scheduled to hold two press conferences Thursday on Cape Cod, where several recent COVID outbreaks are contributing to a sudden uptick in cases across the state.

More than 250 coronavirus cases have now been confirmed as connected to a COVID outbreak in Provincetown, including at least 35 in Boston residents. The popular tourist town on the tip of Cape Cod issued a new mask advisory earlier this week in light of the increase in cases, many of them among people who had been vaccinated.

Baker's first stop was in Sandwich to announce this year's MassTrails Grants funding awards. He was also scheduled to participate in a housing roundtable in Falmouth, followed by a visit to Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium later in the day.

The governor said he will speak with the Department of Health and Human Services about whether the state should resume posting detailed public data on a daily basis about coronavirus cases, including at nursing homes, for local communities on the Cape.

When the state was reporting that information daily, Massachusetts had between 2,000 and 4,000 cases per day, Baker said.

"That number got down into the double digits -- it was so small that continuing to report that stuff daily didn't make a lot of sense," Baker said. "But with respect to what's currently going on in the outer Cape, it probably would make sense for us to give you guys some more regular information."

Nantucket joined Provincetown Wednesday in advising people on the island to start wearing masks indoors and when social distancing isn't possible.

Massachusetts health officials are also monitoring a COVID outbreak at Maplewood at Mayflower Place, a nursing home in West Yarmouth. As of Monday, 31 residents and employees had tested positive.

Massachusetts health officials reported another 457 confirmed coronavirus cases -- the most in a single day since mid-May -- and two new deaths on Wednesday as the testing rate increased again.

The report pushed the state's confirmed COVID-19 caseload to 667,341 since the start of the pandemic and its death toll to 17,667. The last time Massachusetts reported more than 457 new cases in one day was on May 16, when 494 cases were reported.

The state has been providing both testing and vaccination resources to Provincetown due to the outbreak and sent state health officials as boots on the ground. Baker urged everyone Thursday to get vaccinated, pointing to the "small" number of vaccinated people who have been hospitalized with COVID, both in the state and across the country.

"The difference between the impact of COVID on those that are vaccinated and those who aren't is stark and profound, and we continue to have the second highest vaccination rate in the country behind Vermont," he said. "My biggest message to everybody is that we should continue. If you haven't been vaccinated and you're eligible, you should get vaccinated because it is, in fact, the best and most effective way to protect yourself from COVID."

Baker spent the first half of this week in Aspen meeting with other Republican governors focused on upcoming elections. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito served as acting governor while he was away. Thursday's events were his first public appearances since returning to the state.

Massachusetts town COVID-19 outbreak infects over 250

Fox News 22 July, 2021 - 09:04am

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A coronavirus outbreak at a northern Massachusetts seaside town has swelled to over 250 infected following a July 4 holiday surge.

Local health officials noted 256 confirmed cases linked to a cluster in Provincetown, with 190 infections among state residents, 109 of which involve people in the surrounding Barnstable County, with the remainder of cases among people outside of the state, according to a statement posted Wednesday. More than 3,000 tests were administered locally since July 1.

The news comes after health authorities issued a public health advisory on Monday amid 132 confirmed cases linked to the cluster, noting infections occurred in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The advisory was issued to help tamp down infections and urge residents to take precautions.

Officials advised, regardless of vaccination status, seeking testing, practicing hand hygiene, staying home upon suspected COVID-19 symptoms and masking indoors where social distancing couldn't be followed. Residents were also advised to receive vaccinations if they hadn't done so and were warned over close contact that risks propagating viral spread. 

The state has administered over 8.7 million doses, with over 4.2 million residents fully vaccinated, per the latest available data. Figures suggest Barnstable County claims the highest percentage of individuals with at least one dose statewide at at least 75%.

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Another popular Cape summer destination issues new face mask advisory

WCVB Boston 21 July, 2021 - 05:59pm

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A popular summer destination in Massachusetts is advising all residents and visitors to wear face coverings while indoors and at public locations, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

The town/island of Nantucket's Department of Health and Human Services made the announcement Wednesday evening.

Health officials say the decision to issue a new face mask advisory was made as a result of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases across Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

The greater risk of infection from the delta COVID-19 variant also played a role in the decision.

"The increased virulence of the Delta variant, and its high ability to infect even those vaccinated in some cases, means that masking and distancing are strongly recommended at this time," a statement from Nantucket town officials said.

Officials say that prolonged exposure to COVID-19 indoors and at high concentrations is likely the cause of vaccinated individuals becoming infected.

"The delta variant has also shown breakthrough ability against natural immunity and can reinfect those who have already had COVID. Please keep your safety, and the safety of those around you, in mind," the statement said.

On Monday, officials in Provincetown issued a new face mask advisory in light of a COVID-19 outbreak in that Cape Cod community.

For more information on COVID-19 developments on Nantucket, click here.

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