Baker assumes more contagious strain is here

Massachusetts has not yet experienced a confirmed post-holiday Covid surge on par with the one that followed Thanksgiving, Gov. Baker said Monday, but he cautioned that conditions could still change rapidly while also saying he assumes that the more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom late last year is already circulating in Massachusetts, even if the US Centers for Disease Control has not officially identified it here.

The governor’s Monday press conference fell 10 days after Christmas, and he described the span’s impact as “different” than the same period after Thanksgiving.

Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4, the average positive test rate minus higher education repeat tests increased from 7.35 percent to 9.28 percent. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 4, that rate climbed from 4.86 percent to 7.48 percent.

“I think the Thanksgiving thing was worse than this, but this isn’t over yet because we’re just a little bit past New Year’s,” Baker said. “The thing that troubles us all the most is since Thanksgiving, the average age of the people who are being hospitalized has increased dramatically, and that has real consequences with respect to life and death.”

That average age figure has increased from about 60 in early November to 73 now, Baker said. “If you talk to any folks in the health care world, they’ll tell you that that’s the thing that’s most distressing to them as well.”

As to the mutated strain, The CDC said it “emerged with an unusually large number of mutations” and “seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants.” It has been identified in Colorado, California, Florida, and upstate New York.

“I think most of us are working on the assumption that it’s here. I mean, there’d be no reason not to, given the contagious nature of this new variant,” Baker said Tuesday during a visit to Baystate Medical Center. He said people need to “take seriously this idea that we were already dealing with a very contagious virus in the first place which we now have a new variant that’s even more contagious than the original one” and be especially vigilant about mitigation efforts.