Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered a new round of restrictions on businesses, houses of worship, hospitals and private gatherings to address the ongoing surge of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. The new limits are set to begin Saturday, the day after Christmas.
Businesses, religious institutions and most industries will be limited to 25% capacity under the expanded rules. That cap does not include staff for restaurants or retailers. Gatherings, both public and private, will be limited to 25 people for outdoor events, and 10 people for indoor events.
Hospitals are also ordered to halt non-essential inpatient visits starting Dec. 26, according to Health Secretary Marylou Sudders. The pause does not include outpatient procedures, pediatric appointments, preventive screenings for cancer and other maladies, or ambulatory services.
The restrictions are designed to slow any additional surge in cases resulting from the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays, a period traditionally used to gather and catch up with friends and family, Baker said during a press conference Tuesday.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can here,” Baker said, shortly after noting he doubted his administration could create rules that would force people to change their holiday plans.
He made clear that his administration sought to send a message to residents to take the threat of the virus more seriously over the holidays and repeatedly noted lessons learned because of case and hospitalization spikes following Thanksgiving.
"Our hospitals are now under significant pressure, and we're heading toward another period, this holiday stretch, where we're likely to see another significant increase in cases and hospitalizations unless everybody plays a very different game than the one we all played at Thanksgiving," Baker said. "As a result, we think it's appropriate to take action now to slow that spread. And we must do so in a way that can avoid overriding our hospital system."
Baker has been concerned about the possibility of the December holidays — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve/Day — leading to a repeat of the spike in COVID-19 cases that Massachusetts saw in the aftermath of Thanksgiving. On Monday, he said he was "basically begging everyone to stay within their immediate household" for Christmas and New Year's.
While he has been urging residents to alter their traditions and celebrate the holidays differently for this one year, Baker said Tuesday that he decided to make his newest round of restrictions effective the day after Christmas — and therefore after many of the gatherings he is concerned about will have taken place — so he would not disrupt the religious celebration of Christmas and because he hopes many people will physically attend Mass, which is Christmas tradition for some Christians.
This article was originally published on December 22, 2020.