Baker comments suggest little reopening next week
Phase one to involve mostly essential businesses, he says
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER indicated on Tuesday that Massachusetts residents are unlikely to see much change next week in the first phase of the state’s planned four-part reopening effort.
Materials his administration handed out on Monday indicated phase one would involve limited industries resuming operations with severe restrictions. At a press conference in Ashland on Tuesday, the governor elaborated slightly.
“The folks that are most likely to be able to operate successfully on the 18th are going to be many of the folks that are currently operating – they’re essential businesses,” Baker said after touring a biotech company that has shifted some of its production to COVID-19 test kits and hand sanitizer. “But they are going to have to operate under the statewide guidelines and the industry-specific guidelines that will be issued as part of issuing the report on the 18th.”
Baker’s comments came as the state’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated the number of deaths from the virus plunged on Tuesday to 33, the lowest level since April 6. More than two-thirds of those deaths, or 24, occurred in long-term care facilities. Other indicators, particularly new cases and hospitalizations, held steady or ticked up a bit.
The industry-specific guidelines Baker mentioned on Tuesday won’t be released until Monday, but the statewide guidelines require every business to follow protocols on social distancing, hygiene, staffing, and cleaning/disinfecting.
The key social distancing requirements require all employees, customers, and vendors to remain at least six feet apart “to the greatest extent possible” and to wear face coverings or masks. Businesses are also required to provide signage for safe social distancing.
Hygiene, staffing, and disinfecting protocols require hand-washing capabilities and use, regular sanitization of high-touch areas, training programs for workers, and cleaning programs specific to the business.
The statewide guidelines, particularly the social distancing requirements, may be difficult for some businesses to follow. The MBTA, for example, hasn’t come up with a plan to comply with social distancing requirements on its buses and subways and the general manager of the transit authority has been reluctant to place caps on how many people can board vehicles.
Baker said the second phase of reopening, which his administration’s handout calls the cautious phase, will allow additional industries to resume operations “with restrictions and capacity limits.” At his Tuesday press conference, Baker said “the second group that’s likely to come out earliest are going to be people who work in ways and in places where they don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with customers as part of their regular business.”
The governor’s description would seem to mean that businesses like barbers, hair salons, dentists, and summer programs where there is the potential for more face-to-face contact may not open until later on in the process.
Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and three State House lawmakers who are members of Baker’s Republican Party – Reps. Marc Lombardo of Billerica, Alyson Sullivan of Abington, and David DeCoste of Norwell – said before the governor’s Tuesday press conference that he needs to open up the state faster.
Lombardo, wearing a Make American Great Again hat, said barber shops, salons, and other businesses should start reopening on Monday. “Let us help make Massachusetts great again,” he said.
The Republican lawmakers did not criticize Baker directly, but they made clear that further delays are not acceptable. “Without a vaccine, we’re always going to live in a world of some risks,” said DeCoste.
Craney watched the governor’s press conference on Tuesday and came away thinking that Baker may be preparing to impose additional restrictions on businesses that are already open. “The governor has to let off some steam or businesses and their workers are going to start to boil over,” he said.
At his Tuesday press conference, Baker said he is filing a $1 billion supplemental budget to cover an assortment of COVID-19 costs for which he expects the state to be reimbursed by the federal government with disaster relief money. The bill doesn’t itemize the costs, but Baker ticked off expenditures for personal protection equipment, rate adjustments for health providers, setup of temporary field hospitals, and the contact tracing effort being led by the nonprofit Partners in Health.