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Baystate Health CEO Cautions Travelers, Continues To Urge People To Get Vaccinated

Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack.
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Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the CEO and president of Baystate Health, Dr. Mark Keroack, is cautioning travelers about the coronavirus. He said 95% of U.S. counties are in the CDC's "red zone," with high rates of COVID-19 transmission.

But he said Franklin County, Massachusetts, is not among them.

"You're somehow doing that socially distant and vaccine thing — god bless you," Keroack said during a press availability. "But nearly any other place you could go in the United States, you're going to be going into a place where's there's a lot of COVID, or COVID rates are rising."

Keroack advises people with unvaccinated young children not to enter crowded indoor spaces.

The CDC says vaccinated travelers should consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings — not just indoors — and also during close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated, especially while in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Keroack said he supports the vaccine mandates coming from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration.

"You know, most of what the governor has done, I think, has been appropriate," Keroack said. 

Some unvaccinated employees at Baystate are demanding a repeal of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued in July. Keroack said about 1,600 employees are currently unvaccinated. 

"The vaccine issue is an emotionally charged issue, I think, between individuals who feel they don't need it for one reason or another — have issues with needles, or have been influenced by stuff they've read on the internet," he said.

A petition with about 400 signatures calls for a reversal to the mandate, according to reporting on MassLive. 

Keroack said he hopes to continue to see about 100 employees a day getting vaccinated. On that schedule, he said very few people would be out of compliance by October 1, when the mandate takes effect.

Hampden County, where Baystate is based, has the lowest vaccination rate among counties in the state. Keroack said he attributes that low rate that to the county's politically conservative population, as well as religious views on vaccines and ethnic diversity.

Keroack also expressed support for social distancing and mask mandates while public schools reopen. He said a number of studies have looked at how to reopen schools safely.

"I certainly endorse the guidance... that if kids wear masks in school, and distance by three feet or more, that they basically can attend school safely," he said. "I think that the tough thing for parents is that there really is no risk-free option. I think we really know that keeping kids at home and preventing their socialization leads to a number of really bad mental health and developmental outcomes."

Keroack said the pandemic has hit the Baystate Health hospital system particularly hard. He said the COVID-19 case count went from four on July 1, 2021, to caring for more than 100 coronavirus patients last weekend. He said most of those patients were being treated in Springfield, with a handful of cases spread among the community hospitals, and 13 patients are in critical care units.

Keroack said about 75% of the cases are in unvaccinated individuals. And he said Baystate hospitals have seen a "very low volume" of COVID-19 cases in children.

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