Coronavirus hospitalizations in Massachusetts have plummeted since the state prioritized the most vulnerable populations in the vaccine rollout, prompting one leading doctor to tell the Herald that “the worst is behind us” for Bay State hospitals that have been slammed for much of the last year.
The peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Massachusetts’ second surge was 2,428 patients on Jan. 4, which came a couple weeks into the start of the vaccine rollout for health-care workers and nursing home residents and staff.
As of Sunday, two months and more than 2 million vaccine doses later, the number of coronavirus patients has plunged to 665. Cases and deaths in long-term care facilities have also dramatically decreased.
A key early on in the vaccine rollout was targeting the population that is most likely to be hospitalized, said Massachusetts Medical Society President David Rosman.
“Focusing on people 75-plus and getting them vaccinated early has been really important,” Rosman said. “It has definitely helped reduce the amount of cases and the hospitalization rate.”
Of the 665 patients in Massachusetts hospitals on Sunday, there were 174 patients in the intensive care unit and 116 patients were intubated.
The average age of COVID-19 patients is now 69 years old, which was at 73 years old in the beginning of January.
“Because a lot of people in the most vulnerable groups have received the vaccine and many were infected before, I think that the worst is behind us,” said Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health.
Boston University infectious diseases specialist Davidson Hamer said that other countries, such as Israel, have also reported a significant decline in hospitalizations in the months after immunizing older people.
“There is likely an association between those two,” Hamer said. “We are also having a steady reduction in community transmission here in Massachusetts, so that helps as well.”
Last week, UMass Memorial Medical Center announced that Worcester’s DCU Center Field Hospital plans to shut down in the coming weeks. The field hospital has cared for about 650 patients over the past three months, “serving as a relief valve for hospitals in the region that would have been challenged to create more surge space without its existence,” a UMass Memorial spokesman said.
“However since we are witnessing a drop in the daily census and decreased COVID hospitalizations across the state, we plan to cease clinical operations by mid-March with planned decommission in mid-April if trends continue,” he added.
Doctors warned, however, that now is not the time for people to let their guard down as virus variants spread across the country.
UMass Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer Andrew Karson noted the importance of quickly getting people vaccinated, adding, “Hopefully we can get out ahead of these variants.”