Baker’s deliberate mixed message on COVID-19

Governor hails vaccine arrival, while urging against Christmas gatherings

MIXED MESSAGES are not usually held up as a quality of good leadership, but a lot of things have been different about life amid a global pandemic. 

That included Gov. Charlie Baker’s State House briefing on Tuesday where he offered a very calculated mix of hope and dire warning with Christmas approaching. Baker implored Massachusetts residents not to let their guard down — even as the first coronavirus vaccines are administered and it becomes easier to imagine an end to the viral nightmare that has upended life for the past nine months. 

Baker’s plea for continued vigilance against the virus came after the state experienced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases that has been tied to informal family gatherings over Thanksgiving. 

“That’s where the virus thrives,” he said of casual get-togethers. “And over Thanksgiving in Massachusetts it clearly did.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 93 percent and deaths from the virus are up 84 percent since Thanksgiving. Those “are not just numbers,” Baker said. “They’re people and they’re stories and they’re relationships.”

“It’s not a secret that we’re in a second surge here in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “And while hope is clearly right around the corner, arriving in dry ice in the form of a vaccine, it’s not here yet. Getting through this period between now and when that vaccine is more available to people around the Commonwealth requires that we all do things that we know can stop the spread.”  

He said it’s critical that the state not “have a repeat” following Christmas of the surge seen after Thanksgiving.

Baker expressed frustration at the results of a recent Suffolk University poll showing that 30 percent of state residents said they planned to celebrate the upcoming holidays with people outside their household. He urged them to reconsider or, barring that, treat such gatherings with the same precautions used in any indoor setting with people who don’t live in the same household. 

Yesterday, four hospitals in the state received 6,000 doses of the recently-approved Pfizer vaccine, and the state expected more than 53,000 additional doses to arrive today at 17 other hospitals, Baker said. These are the first shipments of what Baker said should be 300,000 vaccine doses to arrive in the state by the end of December. Baker said a public dashboard tracking administration of the COVID-19 vaccine will be launched by the state next week. 

He hailed yesterday’s milestone of the first resident of the state getting vaccinated: Martha Klessens, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, who received a dose at the VA Bedford Health Care System. Baker said Klessens was also the first VA patient nationwide to get a vaccine. 

Melissa Jocelyn, director of nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital, at Tuesday’s briefing. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “But remember, we are still in the tunnel.” (Pool photo by Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe)

The first health care workers in the state are being vaccinated today, Baker said, as part of the first phase of immunizations targeting frontline health care workers. Residents and staff at long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted living facilities should begin getting vaccinated around December 28, he said. 

The encouraging news about vaccines, however, is coming in parallel with a grim return of the virus that is putting stress on hospitals and hospital workers who are worn down, physically and emotionally, from months of the disease and death that the pandemic has brought through their doors. 

Melissa Jocelyn, the director of nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital, appearing with Baker, said the best way people can help relieve that stress on the health care system is to continue to heed public health recommendations on mask-wearing, distancing, and hygiene. 

“We realize everyone is tired and exhausted,” said of the effect the pandemic has had on everyone. “In the hospital setting, we are also tired and exhausted. We are tired of seeing people dying on breathing machines. More sadly, even dying alone, where we use an iPad to connect a dying patient to their loved ones.” 

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jocelyn. “But remember, we are still in the tunnel.” 

Baker has often talked in personal terms about the pandemic, mentioning that it’s been months since he’s shared a meal with his elderly father. On Tuesday, he shared the story of a friend who, Baker said, “is no fan of most of what I’ve done over the course of the past 10 months” in imposing restrictions on the state. 

Baker heard from his friend the other day. “He was texting me from the hospital during a moment when he wasn’t on a machine because he’s having trouble breathing,” he said. “He got it at an event where no one wore masks. And he said, now that I have it, I get how brutal this can be and, honestly, I’m scared to death, not just for me but for my family.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“I can’t emphasize enough that this is not forever,” Baker said of the need to celebrate the upcoming holidays very differently than ever before. “This is once. One time. One month. one year.”