As their concerns and questions increase in proportion to the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases being confirmed in Massachusetts, state lawmakers plan to hold an oversight hearing early next week and hope Gov. Charlie Baker will be able to attend this time.
Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness Co-chairs Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton and Rep. William Driscoll of Milton sent Baker an invitation Wednesday, asking that he be prepared to discuss COVID-19 testing efforts, the state's role in managing and distributing personal protective equipment and testing supplies, efforts related to vaccine status verification, and "preparation for possible prolonged or future disruption due to Omicron or other COVID-19 variants."
The committee held a hearing in mid-December as the omicron variant was spreading and case counts started to surge, but no one from the Baker administration appeared to testify. The governor attributed his team's absence to "calendar conflicts," but acknowledged the chairs' request for his team to appear before the committee in early January.
"We'll just make sure that fits," he said at the time. Comerford and Driscoll said in their letter Wednesday that they will work with Baker's office "to find the earliest possible, mutually-agreeable date and time" for the hearing.
The invitation from the committee co-chairs comes after House Speaker Ron Mariano and Sen. Adam Hinds this week questioned how the Baker administration has used resources intended to deal with another coronavirus surge and whether additional money might be necessary. Comerford and Driscoll touched upon many of the same concerns as Mariano and Hinds.
"We have all been told for many weeks by global experts that this surge was coming. Our hospital emergency rooms are near or at capacity and other hospital services are stretched far too thin. We see hundreds of individuals and families -- trying to do the right thing to protect themselves and their communities -- waiting in impossibly long testing lines, often in the bitter cold. Schools are reeling as staffing challenges mount," they wrote to Baker. "We are eager to understand your efforts to address the immediate challenges before us due to the Omicron surge and efforts to navigate the coming months. We want to understand the protective measures and mitigation strategies that are in place or being explored by the administration for our children, our families, our workers, our business, and our institutions."
Emergency physicians and nurses earlier this week issued a "crisis message" in which they said emergency departments "are at critical capacity and things will get worse" while also emphasizing that those needing emergency care "will be safely cared for."
Tuesday's report from the Department of Public Health showed 2,372 people hospitalized in Massachusetts for COVID-19 -- just shy of the previous surge's record of 2,428 hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of Jan. 4, 2021.
Since the start of December, the state's average number of daily new cases has climbed almost 250 percent from roughly 3,396 new cases each day to an average of 11,825 new cases each day. The average number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is up more than 133 percent and the seven-day average of the state's positive test rate has soared from 4.87 percent to 21.62 percent. The average number of people dying each day from COVID-19 has also increased during the last month, from an average of about 18 deaths to an average of 32 deaths.