Massachusetts businesses hoping to reopen next Monday, when an emergency order by Gov. Charlie Baker was scheduled to expire, must wait at least two weeks longer.
Baker on Tuesday said restrictions aimed at blunting the spread of the coronavirus will not be lifted May 4, as previously planned. The governor extended, until May 18, his order requiring non-essential businesses to close their physical locations and said an advisory board will set "rules of the road" for what he described as a "phased reopening" after that date.
He also extended the stay-at-home advisory until May 18.
The governor said while the upward curve of COVID-19 cases has flattened, he's still not seeing the downward trend needed to begin easing off emergency restrictions. More than 3,000 people in Massachusetts have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. (See our charts and map for a more detailed breakdown.)
"Our overall hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients have not dropped," Baker said. "They remain high — plateaued is the word I would use — statewide, and many health care facilities are still relying on their emergency surge beds to treat patients."
The 17-member reopening advisory board will be led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy, Baker said. Its members include a mix of leaders with varied backgrounds — including health experts, business executives, municipal government officials and a university president. Baker emphasized the board's mandate to seek out a diverse swath of input, feedback and "robust dialogue," as Massachusetts begins the complex process of repairing its badly damaged economy.
The board will report back with its findings and reopening recommendations by May 18, Baker said. It met for the first time Tuesday afternoon, Polito said.
Since first announcing the order closing non-essential businesses, the state has maintained an extensive list of those that are essential and can continue operating, like grocery stores, utility companies, ride-sharing services and restaurants.
Even among those essential businesses, some face additional requirements to remain open. Restaurants, for example, can offer only take-out and delivery. Supermarkets are limited to 40% of their typical capacity, leading to lines of people standing 6 feet apart, outside, as they wait to buy food and household items.
Meanwhile, businesses deemed non-essential by the state had circled next Monday as the day when they could open doors again, along with schools and childcare centers. Last week, however, Baker ruled out a return to classroom learning during the current academic year and said childcare facilities must remain closed until June 29.
The decision on schools and childcare centers cast doubt on the business timeline, but Baker did not explicitly alter it. At press briefings in recent days, he fielded a barrage of questions on the subject, as companies grew hungry for clarity. Over the weekend, he said "rules for engagement and reopening" would come soon.
Baker's extension of the non-essential business closure comes a day after the federal Paycheck Protection Program began accepting a second round of applications. The program offers business loans that can be converted to grants if companies use at least 75% of what they receive to keep paying workers.
Demand for relief from the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus is so high that the program's initial pool of $349 billion quickly ran dry, and Congress poured in an additional $310 billion.
Even businesses that receive assistance may be unable to meet all financial obligations, as another month's bills come due this week. And, based on partial data from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, the next tally of new unemployment claims in the state could set a record.
Some businesses that thought the end of their brick-and-mortar shutdown was drawing near are now looking for a finish line that is out of sight.
This article was originally published on April 28, 2020.
This segment aired on April 29, 2020.