The first wave of businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic could begin to reopen around May 18 if public health data continues to trend in a positive direction, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday as his administration unveiled a four-step plan to move from widespread shutdowns into a "new normal."
One week before a panel tasked with laying out reopening strategies publishes its report, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito offered an outline of how the process will unfold. It will start with industries that are best able to limit face-to-face interaction and transmission risks for the highly infectious virus.
All businesses will face a range of new mandatory safety standards once they resume operations, and state officials will also lay out industry-specific requirements.
During the initial stage, every workplace must ensure that all employees, customers and vendors stay at least six feet apart as often as possible, wear masks, and perform regular cleaning and disinfecting, Polito said.
That first phase, which the administration titled "Start," could begin as soon as next week. Phases two, three and four — dubbed "Cautious," "Vigilant" and "New Normal," respectively — will follow. The timeline for those phases will depend on how well the state is able to contain COVID-19.
"The goal is to begin this process around May 18, but it will be gradual and facts on the grounds will determine if we actually hit that goal," Baker said.
The news was met with guarded optimism by business leaders.
The first companies to open will be those that involve little direct contact between employees and consumers, according to Baker. That bodes will for manufacturers, said Christopher Geehern of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. But it's not as though these businesses can just flip a switch and start up again.
"How do you open in an efficient manner that also ensures the health and safety of employees and makes those employees come back to work?" he asked.
Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts said the state's basic plan seems like a good one. He just hopes the state doesn't wait too long to give retailers the greenlight.
"I can tell you a large percentage of our members are saying if they can't get open until June, they don't believe they'll ever reopen," he said.
To help meet the state's workplace standards, some retailers could reopen safely include curbside pick-up or appointment only, said Hurst.
"There's certainly steps that we have not taken that other states have done that can be very very safe and very measured, even if the doors are not 100% unlocked," he said.
Whatever it is, Hurst hopes it happens soon. Even if retailers are closed, their landlords and their creditors are not going anywhere.
The audio segment attached to this piece is a Morning Edition segment by reporter Adrian Ma.
This article was originally published on May 11, 2020.
This segment aired on May 12, 2020.