MS Health Officials Concerned Thanksgiving Gatherings Could Trigger A 5th COVID Wave

Peter Wells in New York

Massachusetts has ordered new curbs on indoor activities and social gatherings, rolling back the reopening of its economy, in an effort to curb a second wave of coronavirus across the state and preserve hospital resources.

From Sunday, the state will ease back to Phase 3, step 1 of its reopening plan, Governor Charlie Baker announced on Tuesday afternoon, saying there would be reductions in capacity for "pretty much everything" to address the "rapid increase in new infections and hospitalisations" that have followed the Thanksgiving holiday.

The order calls for a 40 per cent capacity limit in places such as retailers, gyms, cinemas, places of worship and libraries and the closure of indoor performance venues. 

Restaurants will have to reduce table size to six people from 10 previously and there will be a 90-minute limit for dining. The number of people permitted to attend an outdoor gathering will be cut to 50 from 100.

"Significantly more people are suffering from severe Covid-related illnesses and they do need urgent care, and this sharp increase is putting a strain on our healthcare system and on our frontline healthcare workers," Mr Baker said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Republican governor said that early last week, just days after Thanksgiving, the state's coronavirus data appeared to be flattening out, giving some hope officials could wait a while before announcing any new restrictions on the economy. Since then, trends have deteriorated, prompting Tuesday's announcement.

The governor said today there were 11 hospitals in the state that were reporting less than 10 per cent of adult beds in intensive care units as open and available. On Monday, state officials said that hospitals would have to limit elective surgeries to free up beds for coronavirus patients. A day earlier, a field hospital was opened in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester to help alleviate bed shortages in the region.

Massachusetts reported a further 2,463 coronavirus cases and 30 deaths, according to health department data on Tuesday. There were 1,516 people currently in hospitals with Covid-19, with 302 in ICUs.

On December 6, the state set a one-day record of 6,675 infections. Although case rates are higher than during the spring, when Massachusetts was hit hard alongside other northeastern states, hospitalisations are still below their peak of nearly 4,000 in late April.

From early October, communities with low rates of coronavirus spread were allowed to move to the second step of Phase 3 within the state's reopening plan, permitting indoor performance venues and some close-contact indoor recreational activities, such as gyms, roller rinks and laser tag to open, albeit with reduced capacity.

In early November, Mr Baker imposed a stay-at-home advisory instructing residents to avoid all but the most essential errands and visits between the hours of 10pm and 5am.

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