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For Lower-Risk Communities Only, Mass. Loosens Some COVID Restrictions Around Gatherings, Recreation

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a Sept. 29 press conference (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a Sept. 29 press conference (Sam Doran/SHNS)

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday afternoon that certain communities defined by the state as "lower risk" for COVID-19 transmission will soon be permitted to loosen several mandatory restrictions on gatherings and recreational activities.

The Baker administration released its decision in a statement minutes before his coronavirus press conference.

Higher risk communities — ones the state has labeled with a red color based on their average daily rate of infection for at least three weeks consecutively — will not be permitted to enter what the administration has dubbed "phase three, step two" and will remain in step one of the same phase.

Baker said a full list where towns or cities fall will be available Wednesday, after the state releases its weekly town-by-town data.

Starting Monday, Oct. 5, those communities considered "lower risk" will now be allowed to:

  • permit indoor performance venues to open "with 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people"
  • permit outdoor performance venues to "increase to 50% with a max of 250 people"
  • open arcades, trampoline parks, obstacle courses, roller rinks and laser tag venues, with up to 50% capacity
  • open fitting rooms in all retail stores
  • expand capacity to 50% in museums, libraries, gyms and driving and flight schools

In addition, outdoor gatherings at public venues in lower-risk communities will now have a limit of 100 people; higher-risk communities must continue to adhere to the state's current restriction of 50 people.

The limit for indoor gatherings at private residences remains at 25 in all communities; the limit for outdoor gatherings at private residences remains at 50 for all communities.

Baker repeatedly rejected the notion that the state should pause on reopening in these lower risk towns and cities despite some epidemiologists worries over recent data related to the state's percent positive rate. (You can check out the number of cases in your community here).

He noted several times that his administration is taking the lead from other states with lower case numbers, particularly the surrounding New England states.

“Part of what I think we’re trying to do here is recognize that in many states, an emphasis on organized gatherings, organized play, organized indoor activity has actually not translated in those places into a significant increase in cases — but exactly the opposite,” Baker said. “... So if people are going to go inside — which they probably will — I would much rather have them go inside in organized and supervised ways with rules than an unorganized, unsupervised way with no rules."

Cities and towns across the state have been frozen in phase three's first step since early August, when Baker ordered a pause in the gradual process toward resuming business activity amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Tuesday's announcement comes as public health experts urge increased caution amid increases in the state's positive test rate and active hospitalizations for COVID-19.

With additional reporting from State House News Service's Chris Lisinski

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