Massachusetts’ average daily COVID case increases over last two weeks among highest in country. Massachusetts and Connecticut top the 14 states with the highest increases in new COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, according to the latest data tracked by The New York Times.
Connecticut’s average daily new case total has risen 120% in two weeks, while Massachusetts’ latest average of about 2,800 cases per day amounts to an 81% bump over the same period. The states can tout nearly the highest vaccination rates in the U.S. — more than 70% of the population is fully vaccinated in both — but they’re still part of a wave of increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, and count themselves among the 14 states where new cases have risen by at least 40% since early November, the Times reported Wednesday.
The U.S. overall has seen a 25% increase in new cases over the last two weeks.
The latest increases in New England — Rhode Island and New Hampshire report rises of 69% and 52%, respectively — come as local, state and federal public health officials brace for an anticipated surge in cases following the holiday season, when more people gather indoors. But unlike last year’s winter surge, the public is better protected by both vaccines and booster shots.
“If you’re vaccinated — and hopefully you’ll be boosted too — and your family is, you can enjoy a typical Thanksgiving meal, Thanksgiving holiday with your family,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC News earlier this week. “The thing we’re concerned about is the people who are not vaccinated, because what they’re doing is, they’re the major source of the dynamics of infection in the community, and the higher the level of dynamics of infection, the more everyone is at risk.”
Overall hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose again in Massachusetts on Tuesday, with the state Department of Public Health reporting 740 patients were in the hospital just a day after the state reached 700 for the first time since April.
National data tracked by the Times shows that Massachusetts’ latest daily average of 629 COVID-19 hospitalizations is a 47% increase compared to just two weeks ago — the second-highest increase in the nation, behind New Hampshire’s 58%.
But Massachusetts and Connecticut are still fairing better than national averages and other states with 40%-plus case increases when it comes to hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Massachusetts is averaging nine hospitalizations per 100,000, and Connecticut is at just eight, compared to Michigan’s 37, Pennsylvania’s 28 and New Hampshire’s 25. The national average is 15 per 100,000, according to the Times.
Vaccinated individuals are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus; as of Tuesday, just 0.05% of fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts have been hospitalized and about 0.01% have died.
More than 4.8 million people are fully vaccinated in Massachusetts and the state is quickly approaching 1 million booster shots administered since they were made widely available. Over the last week, an average of at least 21,000 Massachusetts residents have rolled up their sleeves for a booster shot each day, according to DPH.
COVID vaccine mandates: Unvaccinated Mass General Brigham workers seek emergency injunction from Supreme Court
A group of Mass General Brigham workers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the hospital system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that took effect earlier this month, accusing their employer of violating their religious beliefs — or inflicting “significant physical or mental danger.”
The hospital workers filed an emergency application Tuesday for an injunction with Justice Stephen Breyer, after unsuccessful attempts with lower courts to circumvent the vaccination requirement.
“Applicants face the continuing inability to feed their children, the continuing loss of any practical ability to work in their professions, constant potential homelessness, and continuing significant emotional and psychological harm,” the emergency application states.
“This Court is presented now with a different shade of religious and disability discrimination under the guise of ‘undue hardship,’ namely a refusal to recognize and accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs and real disabilities contra the COVID-19 vaccines,” the application continues. “This case presents the issue of an employer’s claiming undue hardship in accommodating Applicants while at the very same time accommodating other employees.”
But the latest legal action comes amid a new surge of COVID-19 infections across Massachusetts and New England. The Baker administration on Tuesday announced that Massachusetts hospitals with limited bed capacity must start delaying non-urgent procedures by next Monday, as the state’s health care system — strained by serious staffing shortages — prepares for a rush of new COVID cases and other respiratory illnesses spurred by holiday gatherings.
Mass General Brigham has fired non-complaint workers, according to the court filing, without offering potential accommodations in lieu of getting the COVID shots.
The hospital — much like the Baker administration and other Massachusetts health care providers — say such accommodations pose an “undue hardship.” Health experts say the COVID vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death from the virus.
At a district court hearing, hospital workers said Mass General Brigham approved just 234 out of 2,400 total vaccine exemption requests. Waivers were denied despite the “sincerity” of employees’ objections, the application states.
The group of Mass General Brigham employees claim that medical exemption requests were denied if they did not fit the criteria from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checklist. That was the case, the application alleges, even for employees with a risk of anaphylaxis.
The employees, in their plea to the Supreme Court, emphasize the long-term, life-changing consequences they will face over the vaccine mandate.
“Applicants’ having to seek new healthcare employment while explaining their prior terminations and ongoing litigation could effectively prevent them from working in health care in the Commonwealth,” the application states. “Granting Applicants’ requested injunction will enable them to return to work…or at least communicate to other healthcare employers that (Mass General Brigham’s) is likely unlawful.”
Mass General Brigham had announced its mandate for 80,000 employees in late June, pending federal approval of the vaccines. The goal was to ensure “patients are being cared for in the safest clinical environmental possible.