By Nick Giovanni

BOSTON (CBS) – The state of the pandemic in Massachusetts was the focus of a virtual oversight hearing Thursday hosted by the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

Steve Walsh, the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, called the pandemic’s effects on Massachusetts hospitals, “terrifying.”

“As of Tuesday, there were 1,411 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. A month ago, there were 554. That is a terrifying increase in cases,” he told the panel.

“Our frontline workforces are exhausted and depleted,” said State Sen. Joanne Comerford, who is co-chair of the committee.

She said she got an email describing Mass General Hospital now moving into a “capacity disaster operations plan” with “instructions on how to divert patients from the ED (emergency department).”

“On top of it all, friends, we’re heading into flu season, grappling with not one but two variants rapidly moving and breaking through vaccinations,” said Sen. Comerford.

Outside Mass General Hospital Thursday, employees said it’s been busy.

“Normally around the holidays, we typically slow things down, but a culmination of factors I think have caused an increase in patients to come in,” said MGH lab worker James Addison.

“Every five seconds back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” said an employee who sterilizes equipment.

Back at the legislative meeting, Steve Walsh’s message to the public heading into holidays was get vaccinated and boosted.

“The best gift for the holiday season would be if we weren’t struggling on Jan. 15 to find beds for patients because of avoidable exposures over the next two weeks.”

There was also discussion about whether public mask mandates would help ease the burden on hospitals.

“At this point in time, I think it’s important for the locals to do what they think makes the most sense in their communities,” said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Thursday, when asked whether he would enact a statewide mask mandate.

The meeting came a day after the city of Boston confirmed three Omicron cases, though experts say there are probably more than that.

Nick Giovanni