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Baker Orders All Non-Essential Mass. Businesses To Close Starting Tuesday

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday ordered all non-essential businesses and organizations to close for at least two weeks, but said he would not issue a stay-at-home order.

"I do not believe I can or should order U.S. citizens to be confined to their homes for days on end," he said at a press conference. "It doesn't make sense from a public health point of view, and it's not realistic."

All non-essential businesses must close their brick-and-mortar operations by noon Tuesday, Baker said, though they can continue to operate remotely. Restaurants can continue offering takeout and delivery.

The administration released a nine-page list of businesses considered essential.

"Everyone should know we will always allow all grocery stores, pharmacies and other types of businesses that provide essential goods and services to Massachusetts residents to continue to operate," he said. "And we will not stop anyone from accessing these essential businesses."

The order runs until noon on April 7, but can be extended.

While Baker resisted issuing a stay-at-home order, he directed the Department of Public Health to issue a "stay-at-home advisory." The guidance released by DPH limits gatherings to 10 or fewer people. The previous order by Baker had limited gatherings to 25 or fewer people.

If outdoors, DPH says people must follow social distancing protocols by remaining at least 6 feet apart. Baker said people can continue to go to parks, but should avoid activities that bring people in close contact, like basketball games.

Baker strongly advised those over 70 or with underlying health conditions to stay at home and limit interactions with others as much as possible.

Violations of the order can result in a warning for a first offense, a fine of up to $300 for a second offense and for further offenses, criminal penalties, a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment.

"By taking this action now, we can significantly improve our position in this fight to slow the spread of this virus," Baker said. "Acting now to prevent more person-to-person interaction and [prevent] spreading the virus will buy us more time, so our health care system can better prepare for a challenge unlike any they've seen before."

As of Sunday, Massachusetts has 646 reported cases of the coronavirus, and five people have died.

The administration released a list of the industries considered essential. Baker said it was based on guidance from the federal government and adjusted "to reflect Massachusetts' unique economy."

The list includes:

  • Health care, public health and human services (including workers who provide COVID-19 testing, medical professionals and lab personnel)
  • Law enforcement, public safety and first responders
  • Food and agriculture (including workers supporting grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurant and quick serve operations)
  • Energy (including electric, petroleum, natural gas and propane gas workers)
  • Water and wastewater
  • Transportation and logistics (including mass transit workers, postal and shipping workers, airport and airline employees, and Lyft and Uber drivers)
  • Public works (including plumbers, electricians, exterminators and inspectors)
  • Communications and information technology (including media, data center operators and IT workers)
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Hazardous materials
  • Financial services
  • Chemical
  • Defense industrial base
  • "Other community-based essential functions and government operations" (including hotel workers, elections personnel, security staff, weather forecasters, emergency child care workers, workers in sober homes, laundromats and laundry services, and workers in places of worship)

Throughout last week, Baker said he would not order a shelter in place or stay-at-home order. He argued it would put many residents in a difficult position.

But pressure was increasing on Baker to order a shelter in place. More than 50 elected officials, including state lawmakers and municipal office-holders from around Greater Boston, signed a letter urging Baker to impose a shelter-in-place order immediately.

One of those lawmakers, Rep. Mike Connolly, of Cambridge, said Monday he was pleased with Baker’s move. Whether it’s an order or advisory, he said, it accomplishes the same thing.

“This is basically the same thing as what other states are calling a ‘Stay At Home Order’ — and while I wish the Governor had acted nine days ago when we first started calling on him to make this move — it's a relief to finally see it happening now,” he wrote in an email.

Governors across the country have issued stay-at-home orders that have not necessarily confined people to their homes, but rather encouraged them to stay indoors.

Ohio's governor said people can leave for necessary supplies or outdoor activities like walking the dog or going to the park. Connecticut's governor issued a "stay home, stay safe" order that allows people to go outside, but recommends they keep their distance from others.

In California, an order to stay home still means many people visiting parks and beaches.

Baker acknowledged the continual limiting of personal contact and forcing businesses to close may be affecting people in Massachusetts. He said he sensed "a loss of purpose."

"Purpose is what drives us, purpose is what fills our souls," he said. "Many feel lost, and I can see why. But here's the truth: we all have a role. We all have purpose as we battle this disease. Protecting one another from the spread of COVID-19 by limiting physical and social contact and staying at home is profoundly purposeful. Every single act of distance has purpose."

This article was originally published on March 23, 2020.

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