Are you essential or not?
Baker issues a list of workers that can stay on the job
GOV CHARLIE BAKER’S list of essential businesses that can remain open for the next two weeks is a statement about what’s important in our society.
Medical facilities and the people who staff them are at the top of the heap in this time of the coronavirus. So are first responders and public safety workers, as well as employees who provide heat, light, water, food, and medicine. All of them can continue heading to their jobs at power plants, grocery stores, and pharmacies.
The list also includes gas stations, laundromats, places of worship, news organizations, and stores that sell pet supplies, auto supplies, home appliances, and home improvement and repair items.
But employees at law firms, development companies, and investment firms are missing from the list and expected to stay at home and work remotely. Even though they are typically highly paid, they aren’t essential.
But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s two-week shutdown order extended to state liquor stores. Tim Holden, the chair of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said in a statement that closing the stores was a difficult decision that will cause a lot of disruption. “But in these uncertain and unprecedented times, the public health crisis and mitigation effort must take priority over the sale of wine and spirits, as the health and safety of our employees and communities is paramount,” Holden said.
Baker decided medical marijuana businesses were essential. But recreational marijuana was deemed nonessential because, according to Baker, the relatively few stores that exist tend to be crowded and attract people from out of state. Marijuana advocates cried foul, saying recreational marijuana could be sold while maintaining social distancing.
“There are thoughtful ways to do this, but to just knock it out — it isn’t right, and it’s not fair,” said David O’Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “It’s discriminatory to adult-use cannabis consumers in a state where it’s legal.”
The state’s list of essential jobs has some gray areas. The list includes “workers conducting research critical to COVID-19 response” but says nothing about the vast biopharma sector that has been an important driver of the state’s economy.
Robert Coughlin, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, sent out an email saying he checked with the Baker administration after the list was released and learned “that all biopharma R&D is essential and exempt.”Baker’s list also includes “plumbers, electricians, exterminators, inspectors, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, construction sites and projects, and needed facilities.”
Does that mean a new roof can be put on a house? Does it mean a tree can be cut down and removed from a backyard?