Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered a rollback for all cities and towns in the state’s reopening plan to Phase 3, Step 1 that will limit the size of outdoor gatherings, limit capacities in retail stores, and temporarily close entertainment venues like theaters. The rollback goes into effect on Sunday and comes on the heels of the Baker announcing that hospitals would no longer provide elective procedures as of Friday.
The new measures are an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the Bay State, which is experiencing a “second surge.” For three straight days in the past five, the state had more than 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 and has opened two field hospitals to help ease the crunch on hospitals.
Baker said it’s up to individuals to help slow the spread.
“We are in the middle of the holiday season. We all get that that’s a tough time of the year for this kind of a message, but now more than ever, as we all work our way through this second surge, it’s critically important for everyone to understand that the decisions you make every day about what to do and who to be with will have a significant impact on our ability to stop the spread, to make it possible for people to work, to keep our schools open for kids, and to build ourselves a bridge to the vaccine, and to keep our healthcare system strong,” Baker said.
In answer to a reporter’s question, Baker said he would get the vaccine when it’s available to him but added he would “not cut the line” to get one.
While praising residents of the commonwealth for their efforts to beat back COVID-19 during a spring surge, Baker at times took a scolding tone in asking people to stop gathering with friends in social settings and again blamed Thanksgiving for the “second surge” in COVID-19 across the state.
“But here we are today 12 days past Thanksgiving and new infections and hospitalizations are showing disturbing trends,” Baker said. “We’re asking everyone to step up their vigilance. Every day, every setting … But we can not simply wait for a vaccine to get here.”
Under the rollback to Phase 3, Step 1, indoor performance venues, and high contact recreational businesses will close. Capacity limits will also be reduced to 40 percent statewide for gyms, lodging, libraries, museums, places of worship, and “pretty much everything else,” Baker said.
Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people, down from 100. Meanwhile, any gathering of more than 25 people will have to report the gathering to the local board of health.
New initiatives are also part of the governor’s guidelines released Tuesday. Workers in offices will now be required to wear masks, even if distancing is possible. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urged companies to continue to allow employees to work from home when possible.
“We must preserve our hospital system’s ability to provide lifesaving care for everyone who needs it,” Polito said. “Today’s announcement is meant to tighten up guidance and to ensure all residents are taking the proper COVID-19 prevention measures no matter where they are.”
Restaurants are being asked to limit the number of people at tables to six people, limit a party’s visit to 90 minutes, and Baker urged people to only dine with their immediate family members. Customers will now have to wear a mask while sitting at their tables and can only remove them to eat or drink, Polito said.
“We’ve asked a lot of our restaurant owners and operators across our state all throughout this pandemic,” Polito said. “The restaurant community has gone to great lengths to enact safety protocols from partitions to outdoor dining, and has done a great job operating safely. They’ve been creative, they’ve been innovative, and they’ve really worked hard to make people feel safe coming in and out of their establishments and most importantly to allow their workers to feel safe providing services in their restaurants day-in and day-out.”
Baker was asked why he isn’t calling for a broader shut down. “I think when it comes to decisions around closing the economy, we need to remember that in the spring, part of the reason we shut everything down was because we had no rules, and no guidance, and no advisory about work at all and we felt it was incumbent on us to just stop.”
Shutting down the economy would and did have a “calamitous effect” on some people, he said. “People who got really creamed by that are the people who actually have to get up and go to work somewhere,” Baker said. “These decisions might seem easy to some people who don’t have to live with them, but they don’t feel that easy to the people who do — and we should never forget that.”
Last month, Baker took measures to stem the spread of the virus including a stay-at-home advisory from 10 pm to 5 am with gyms, theaters, and casinos to close at 9:30 pm, and liquor stores and restaurants to stop selling alcohol and stop table service at 9:30 pm. Private homes were capped at 10 people for indoor and 25 for outdoor and all private gatherings were required to end at 9:30 pm. All the orders and the stay-at -home advisory went into effect at 12:01 am on Friday, Nov. 6. In addition to the stay at home advisory, Baker issued a face covering order requiring all people above the age of five years to wear a face covering or mask while in public, regardless of social distancing.