BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday he is pushing the state’s current restrictions for gatherings and business capacity back another two weeks, hours before health officials reported the highest one-day total of confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
The data from the state Department of Public Health brings the state’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 393,188 since January. Health officials also announced 71 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 statewide on Thursday, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus up to 12,634.
That total increases to 12,909 when counting those who died with probable infections, according to the DPH.
There is an estimated 81,604 active cases of the virus in Massachusetts as of Thursday, including 2,386 infected patients who are hospitalized. Of the number hospitalized, 455 patients were in intensive care and 240 patients were intubate.
“As we all know, Massachusetts is fighting its way through a second surge,” Gov. Charlie Baker said during a press conference on Thursday. “Cases are growing and hospitalizations continue to climb. This trend, as we know, has been going on for weeks, driven in part by people letting their guard down in informal settings and over the holiday.”
Baker cited data during the press conference, noting before Thanksgiving, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was about 2,500 per day. He said, as of Thursday, that figure has jumped by 91%, with the number reaching 4,800 per day.
Also, in the past six weeks, hospitalizations due to coronavirus have grown 145%, with ICU admissions up by 111%.
Baker also revealed Massachusetts hospitals were roughly 84% occupied as of Thursday. An intensive care unit census also continues to rise, showing ICUs statewide are 75% occupied, up 25% since Thanksgiving.
As a result of the troubling data trend, Baker announced plans to raise all hospitals in the state from Tier 3 to Tier 4 status — a designation that notes limited capacity. The governor added the state will help the hospitals increase capacity by permitting them to request exemptions from mandated staff-to-patient ratios in the ICU.
The governor also used the discouraging health data to announce plans to extend gathering restrictions across the state.
“As we continue to see a strain on our health care system in response to the holiday spike, we’re today announcing capacity and gathering restrictions will be in place for at least another two weeks,” Baker said
The statewide capacity restrictions were put in place Dec. 26 with the goal “to reduce mobility and promote social distancing” in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread, Baker said. Capacity limits for most businesses were set at 25% at that time, while the limits on social gatherings were set at 25 people for outdoor events and at 10 people for indoor gatherings.
Those gathering restrictions and capacity limits were originally set to expire on Sunday, but Baker announced during Thursday’s press conference the restrictions will remain in place until at least Jan. 24.
“Over the next two weeks, we will continue to look at and evaluate the data to make further decisions,” Baker said.
Baker added capacity restrictions do not apply to kindergarten through 12th grade schools. The governor said during the press conference that school districts can continue to bring students back into the classroom, “as the science shows clearly that schools can and are right now holding in-person class safely even in communities with high transmission rates.”
During Wednesday night’s Lowell School Committee meeting, James Hall, Lowell School District’s chief operations officer, provided a district-wide COVID-19 update. The data revealed from Sept. 1 to Monday, there have been 53 members of LPS staff who have tested positive for the virus and 36 students.
Hall added the School Committee would continue to work with the Board of Health in reviewing health metrics to determine when students could return to school and in what capacity.
Right now the timeline shows that Feb. 1 would include substantially separated students returning to in-person learning; March 1, the initial 25% of students would return to in-person learning; and by April 1, 50% of students would return to in-person learning.
During Thursday’s press conference, Baker also provided an update on vaccine distribution. As of the end of the day Wednesday, 329,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been shipped to state providers, including both first and second doses.
The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer require each person to receive two doses to be considered fully vaccinated.
To date, 154,132 doses have been administered statewide. In addition, staff and residents in roughly 280 of the state’s 383 nursing homes have received vaccines.
The next phase of inoculations will start on Monday, when first responders will start to receive vaccinations.
Also as of early Thursday evening, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website stated there had been 359,849 deaths from the coronavirus nationwide since last January. The CDC data also suggests there have been approximately 21.3 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide during that time.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis