BOSTON (WPRI) — Gov. Charlie Baker announced new measures Tuesday that will help address the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the critically understaffed health care system in the state.

Baker is activating 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help the non-clinical support needs of hospitals and transport systems. Up to 300 will begin training this week and will support 55 acute care hospitals, as well as 12 ambulance service providers across the state.

The activation comes as the health care system is facing a critical staffing shortage which has contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds since the beginning of the year, according to the Baker-Polito Administration.

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health surveyed all hospitals and ambulance service providers and identified five roles Guard personnel can serve for up to 90 days:

  • Non-emergency transport between facilities: driving ambulances used to transfer patients between two health care locations such as when patients are discharged from a hospital and transferred to a long term care facility.
  • Patient observers: providing continuous or frequent observation of a patient who is at risk for harm to themselves.  
  • Security support: helping to maintain a safe workplace.
  • In-hospital transport: bringing patients via wheelchair or, if needed, stretcher, from their patient room to tests such as x-ray or CT scan, or from the emergency department to their inpatient floor.
  • Food service/tray delivery support: delivering patient meals to their rooms

Starting Dec. 27, all hospitals have been directed to postpone or cancel nonessential elective procedures likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity.

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Baker also recommends that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering indoors. Masks are still required to be worn in certain settings including public transportation and health care facilities.

Baker reminds residents getting vaccinated and a booster shot is the best way to protect yourself against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID.

As of Wednesday, over 89% of all Massachusetts residents have received at least one dose, and 74% of the entire population is fully vaccinated.

The announcement comes a day after Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced workers and customers at restaurants, gyms and many other indoor businesses in the city will be required to show proof of vaccination starting in mid-January.