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Masks Recommended For All In Massachusetts; Baker Activates National Guard To Support Hospitals

BOSTON (CBS) -- Gov. Charlie Baker's administration on Tuesday announced several new steps to combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state, including an updated mask advisory, activation of the National Guard to support hospitals and new guidance on elective medical procedures.

The latest mask advisory from the Department of Public Health is "recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor, public spaces."

"DPH particularly urges this recommendation for individuals who have a weakened immune system, or are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated," the agency said.

The rules for masking in schools are not affected by this announcement, DPH said.

The governor has resisted calls from some doctors and lawmakers to reinstate a mask mandate.

"I have no interest in putting a mandate on this issue given all of the tools that are available on a statewide basis," he said.

Baker is also activating up to 500 Massachusetts National Guard members to assist in "non-clinical" roles throughout the health care system, which include transportation patients between facilities and inside hospitals, delivering food to patients, observing patients who may be at risk of harming themselves and supporting security operations.

Deployment of the National Guard will begin on Dec. 27.

"There is no question the next few weeks will be enormously difficult for our healthcare community," Baker said at a press conference. "There are staff shortages, sicker patients, and fewer step-down beds available."

Finally, the administration is further curbing elective medical procedures in the state.

"To preserve health care personnel resources, effective 12:01am on December 27th, all hospitals are directed to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity," the administration said.

Anyone planning to gather with friends and family is encouraged to get tested to avoid spreading the virus.

"The best possible gift you can give to your loved ones this holiday season is protection from COVID," Health & Human Services Sec. Marylou Sudders said. "Get vaccinated. Get boosted, and have a safe holiday."

"The governor's persistent refusal to follow CDC guidance on mask-wearing and failure to provide a dat-driven blueprint to keep residents safe puts all of us, families and business alike , at risk," said State Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley sent a letter to baker asking him to revisit indoor mask mandates, calling it a "critical part" of the state's plan.

On Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 13,717 new confirmed COVID cases from Friday through Sunday. The seven-day weighted average of positive tests in Massachusetts is up to 5.91%.

In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu just announced that beginning January 15, many indoor spaces will require proof of vaccination and city workers face a vaccine mandate with no testing alternative.

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