Infectious Disease Expert Warns Baker's Reopening Plan Is Risky

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The statues of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom Dimaggio wear masks outside of Fenway Park. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The statues of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom Dimaggio wear masks outside of Fenway Park. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On Monday, Massachusetts enters stage four in the governor's reopening plan. This means indoor public gatherings of up to 100 people will now be permitted. Stadiums, arenas and ball parks will be allowed to open at reduced capacity.

This marks an easing of social distancing guidelines we have not seen since the pandemic shut down the state one year ago.

For more, WBUR's Morning Edition host spoke with Sam Scarpino, professor of network science and director of Northeastern's Emergent Epidemics Lab.

Interview Highlights

Does reopening the state to this extent at this time make sense from your point of view?

"I don't think reopening now makes sense and there's a lot of support from public health officials who agree with me."

Are you worried that this move will encourage people to become too relaxed? What do you think our listeners should prioritize in terms of safety as we enter this new period in the pandemic?

"I am worried that the reopening communicates a level of safety that is simply not there. We heard from Dr. Walensky, who now heads the CDC and was a part of the governor's task force, almost a month ago that she thought we were moving too quickly in the state. What we need to do is prioritize mask wearing, physical distancing, staying outside as much as possible, avoiding indoor gatherings with unvaccinated individuals who are outside of your bubble."

TD Garden is set to open to fans Monday. The Bruins, ironically, were scheduled to play Tuesday night, but that game has been postponed because several players have had to enter COVID protocols. The Red Sox are on the verge of opening day at Fenway. Is it too soon to start bringing crowds into arenas and ballparks?

"Reopening now puts all of our gains at risk and may make it take longer for us to return to something that looks like normalcy."

Gov. Baker has made it a goal to vaccinate 70% of the state's population by the Fourth of July. Do you think that's realistic?

"It's certainly a stretch goal to vaccinate that many individuals in the state for two reasons. One, we're still waiting on emergency use authorization for younger individuals. In addition, we know that vaccine hesitancy levels are high enough that getting to that 70% mark may be unobtainable. So we're going to need a very aggressive and proactive messaging campaign on the part of the governor in order to achieve that goal."

When do you think we will be back to the "new normal," so to speak, and is a new normal even the right way to think about it?

"As many of us said about a month ago, including the CDC director, if we had left measures in place, continued to focus on vaccination, we could have very likely ridden the warmer weather into a new normal much more quickly than we may achieve now. Cases are up, positivity is up, and there's certainly a risk that with measures being relaxed, that we could enter into another surge. So it's really up to us and up to the governor how quickly we can begin a new normal. Now, will things ever be the same? Probably not in the short term, but that doesn't mean that we can't have most of our social connections back, that we can't rebuild the aspects of our economy that have been hit hardest, and that's what all of us are working for and why the decisions we make and the decisions the governor makes over the next few days and weeks are so important."

This segment aired on March 22, 2021.


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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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