BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday urged residents to refrain from gathering with extended family and friends at Thanksgiving, saying casual indoor gatherings are helping fuel the new surge in cases in Massachusetts.
Holiday dinners and festivities should be limited to members of a person's immediate household, Baker said at a news conference, adding that the state has limited private indoor gatherings to 10 people.
Baker acknowledged that the choice to avoid large family gatherings is difficult for many but that the state continues to see more spread of the virus. He said cases have increased by eight times since Labor Day, while there have been four times as many hospitalizations in the same period.
“This second surge is dangerous for all of us," he said.
Recent developments regarding potential vaccines are welcome news, he said, but that's no reason for people to let their guard down.
Any college students hoping to go home for the holiday should also be tested at least 72 hours before leaving campus to help reduce the possibility of spreading the virus to their families, Baker said.
While the number of daily confirmed cases is nearing the numbers in the first wave of the disease in the spring, the number of deaths has been lower, according to Baker.
That's in part because testing was more limited in the spring, he said. Many people who were likely infected but were showing mild or no symptoms were never tested, he said, meaning the disease was likely much more widespread than the number of confirmed positive cases reflected.
Testing is much more widespread now.
The state is also planning to issue an alert to 4.5 million phones in Massachusetts on Thursday to urge residents to remain vigilant against the virus during the holiday.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths jumped by 47 on Wednesday as the tally of those succumbing to COVID-19 catches up with the surge in new infections.
There were more than 2,740 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed virus death toll to 10,177 and its confirmed caseload to more than 189,500.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 880 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 170 in intensive care units.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 6,629.
TESTING IN SCHOOLS
State education officials are unveiling a new program that would let schools rapidly test students and teachers who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Under the program, which will begin rolling out in more than 130 school districts by early December, schools would be equipped with the rapid tests for free, state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Wednesday.
If a student starts showing any symptoms of illness, they can be given the test, which produces a result in about 15 minutes.
If the test indicates the student has been exposed to the coronavirus, they can be sent home and advised to take a more exact test to confirm that they have COVID-19.
If the in-school test comes up negative, the student may be allowed to return to the classroom — or, if sick enough, may be sent home.
“By testing students and teachers and getting results within minutes, we will be able to identify infected individuals and their close contacts more quickly to help stop any spread,” Riley said.
Schools would need the consent of a parent before the test could be administered to a student.
Riley said the tests are another tool that the state can use to help ensure students can safely remain in the classroom.
A Massachusetts hospital group is restricting visitors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Springfield-based Baystate Health announced Wednesday that no visitors will be allowed at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer. Patients at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield will be allowed one visitor.
The data will be reviewed weekly and the visitor policy may change based on updated risk levels and COVID-19 prevalence.
There are some exceptions to the new rules, including for pediatric and maternity patients and for end-of-life situations.
Associated Press writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report.