BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced the activation of the National Guard to address the non-clinical support needs of overwhelmed hospitals and health officials urged residents to return to wearing face masks in indoor public spaces as the omicron variant continues to fuel a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

RELATED: Omicron sweeps across nation, now 73% of US COVID-19 cases

Up to 500 Guard members have been activated and 300 members will begin training this week to support 55 acute care hospitals, as well as 12 ambulance service providers across the state, Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said during a news conference at the State House.

The Department of Public Health says it surveyed all hospitals and ambulance service providers and identified five key roles that non-clinical Guard personnel can serve in support of hospital operations for up to 90 days:

  • Non-emergency transport between facilities: driving ambulances used to transfer patients between two healthcare locations such as when patients are discharged from a hospital and transferred to a long term care facility. 
  • Patient observers: providing continuous or frequent observation of a patient who is at risk for harm to themselves.  
  • Security support: helping to maintain a safe workplace.
  • In-hospital transport: bringing patients via wheelchair or, if needed, stretcher, from their patient room to tests such as x-ray or CT scan, or from the emergency department to their inpatient floor. 
  • Food service/tray delivery support: delivering patient meals to their rooms

The activation of the Guard comes as hospitals struggle with critical staffing shortages, which have contributed to the loss of about 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds, Sudders said. Hospitals are also seeing a high level of patients, many due to non-COVID-related reasons.

RELATED: Old virus defenses no longer necessary, Baker says

Effective Dec. 27, all hospitals will be directed to postpone or cancel all non-essential elective procedures that are likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity, according to Baker.

Health officials also issued an updated advisory recommending all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces.

All Bay Staters are required to continue wearing face coverings in certain settings, including public transportation and health care facilities.

When asked about possibly issuing a statewide mask mandate, Baker said that he had “no interest” in doing so. Many cities and towns, including Boston, currently require masks in indoor public spaces.

Baker reminded residents that the best way to remain protected against the virus is to get vaccinated and boosted.

“The evidence is overwhelming that these shots work,” Baker said. “Getting vaccinated and getting a booster if you’re eligible is the best thing you can do this holiday season for you and your family.”

RELATED: Hospitalization, death avoided in nearly all breakthrough cases in Mass.

Public health data released on Monday showed that 97 percent of COVID-19 breakthrough cases in Massachusetts have not resulted in hospitalization or death. Findings also indicated that unvaccinated individuals are five times more likely to contract the virus than fully vaccinated individuals and 31 times more likely to contract the virus than individuals who have been boosted.

Baker also suggested that residents use rapid COVID-19 tests before and after attending holiday gatherings to prevent spreading the virus.

The governor’s announcement comes a day after Boston Mayor Michelle announced a plan that will require people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter many businesses in the city.

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