Massachusetts will move into the third phase of its gradual plan to revive public activity on Monday, allowing gyms, museums, movie theaters and more to resume some operations even as COVID cases surge in other parts of the country.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and members of the cabinet unveiled plans Thursday to transition into the next stage of reopening after the holiday weekend, touting positive public health metrics in the state and urging people to continue to abide by social distancing, face-covering and hygiene practices.
"The public health data makes clear that Massachusetts is effectively bringing the fight to the virus as we've reopened," Baker said.
Before announcing his decision, Baker noted that Wednesday's daily report included 261 people who had newly tested positive for the virus, 753 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, and a 1.8% positive test rate.
Businesses that return in phase three must follow safety restrictions, including limits on capacity. The phase will "last significantly longer than the other phases," Baker said, and will be broken into two smaller steps.
Casinos are among the businesses permitted to resume operations, though Polito noted that the state's casinos will likely only open to workers for about a week, starting on July 6. Encore Boston Harbor in Everett announced in a statement Thursday it will welcome back members of the public on Sunday, July 12 at 9 a.m. Staffers and casino-goers alike will have to adjust to new safety rules under the State Gaming Commission's plan.
The announcement clears the way for the area's pro sports teams to once again host games, though the stands will remain free of fans.
Speaking at a press conference in Fenway Park Thursday afternoon, both Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh welcomed the return of live sporting events as a way to help residents cope with the ongoing restrictions placed on their lives.
“We’re certainly not back to normal, but welcoming the Red Sox back and being able to watch live sports again is a big win for Boston and for all of us,” Walsh said.
Each league is developing its own standards to meet state restrictions and maintain the health and safety of the players and staff. Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy said Major League Baseball has a 125-page set of protocols in place for teams to follow. It includes rules for screening and testing personnel, and isolation and quarantine protocols for anyone who is exposed to the coronavirus or tests positive.
As the next phase begins, the Baker administration will also update restrictions on gatherings to allow more people to congregate. Indoor gatherings will be capped at eight people per 1,000 square feet with a maximum of 25, while outdoor enclosed gatherings will be limited to 25% of permitted capacity with a maximum of 100.
For the city of Boston, the Baker administration said in a statement that the new gatherings order will go into effect a week later, on Monday, July 13.
Caps do not apply to unenclosed outdoor events, such as backyard parties or park visits.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders explained that while the health care industry would continue to emphasize a focus on telehealth services, several in-person services would return, including certain group treatment programs, as well as some day programs. Additionally, some community-based day services for adults with intellectual disabilities can now reopen, too.
Notably, phase three also loosens restrictions on visitations at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.
The decision comes as New York and New Jersey pump the brakes on their own progress toward reopening due to record numbers of new infections reported across the country concentrated in southern and western states.
With additional reporting from WBUR's Newsroom
School committees across Massachusetts are asking the state to cover all associated with protecting students and staff from the coronavirus when classes restart.
More than 100 school committees have passed identical resolutions seeking full state reimbursement for all COVID-19-related costs, including masks and other protective equipment and additional teachers, bus drivers, and other staffers who might be necessary so students can practice social distancing, The Boston Globe reported.
“It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that each school district is able to pay for the enormous additional staffing, transportation, and material expenses required to do this,” according to the resolution.
“If the state is going to come out with a mandate to open school safely, they need to make sure we have the money to do it.” said Peter Demling, a member of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, who oversaw the drafting of the resolution.
Gov. Charlie Baker said last week he would allocate approximately $200 million from the state’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for costs related to reopening public schools, but it’s unclear if that’s enough.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace, one of Boston's popular tourist destinations, officially reopened to the public Wednesday to a light but steady stream of visitors.
In Quincy Market, which closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, food stalls were open and staff were on the lookout for customers.
Outside guitarist and singer Ryan LaPerle performed in the South Market for passers by and a few families and visitors, and Violin Viiv plugged in her clear, electric violin by Faneuil Hall, facing the market, as visitors and bicyclists passed by.
Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged Wednesday "there were a lot of mixed signals" about the coronavirus in the early months of the year, coming from federal officials and other sources.
Asked whether the state might have acted faster with better advice to stave off the spread of the virus, he said, "That's a little bit on everybody. But I hate to point too many fingers because we have continued to learn about this as we've gone along."
Baker's comments at a press conference came in response to questions about a WBUR investigation that reviewed 115 emails from federal authorities to the commonwealth in the first three months of 2020 and found they repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the coronavirus.
Week after week, as the virus was exploding overseas and quietly creeping across America, federal emails offering guidance to governors and state health officials well into March called the risk in the U.S. "low."
A group of lawmakers, including one of the leaders of the Housing Committee, will push for lasting housing relief in the coming weeks that would keep a mandatory pause on evictions and foreclosures in place for more than a year.
The bill filed Tuesday by Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Kevin Honan aims to prevent what they say could be tens of thousands of housing removals if an existing moratorium expires on Aug. 18 and to make more support available for tenants and homeowners most impacted by the economic downturn.
Their legislation would impose a moratorium on evictions and moratoriums for failure to pay until one year after Gov. Charlie Baker lifts the public health emergency he declared amid the pandemic and freeze rents for the same duration at their pre-outbreak levels.
For the first time in more than three months, Massachusetts health officials reported no new deaths related to COVID-19.
On Tuesday, there were no new confirmed or probable coronavirus-related deaths tallied in the Department of Public Health's daily release of pandemic figures.
The state reported its first death on March 20. Since then, Massachusetts has changed how it reports deaths, opting instead to list the date of death rather than the date it was reported to state officials. Under the updated reporting, the first death occurred 10 days earlier, on March 10.
In parts of the country, cases of COVID-19 are skyrocketing.
But as people across the country prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July this week, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he was lifting the 14-day self-quarantine directive for anyone traveling into Massachusetts from any of the other five New England states, New York or New Jersey.
Baker said the quarantining instructions will remain in place for anyone coming into the state from anywhere else, including new hotspots around the country like Florida.
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