No relief: Baker extends shutdown until May 18

Puts Polito in charge of committee planning phased re-opening

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER announced on Tuesday that he is extending until May 18 the state’s closure of non-essential businesses, his stay-at-home advisory and his ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

He also announced the formation of a 17-member advisory board of business, municipal, and public health officials to make recommendations regarding a reopening. The advisory board is headed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Mike Kennealy, the governor’s secretary of housing and economic development. It planned to have its first meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Although COVID-19 hospitalizations are plateauing, Baker said they have not yet started to decline. “If you don’t see any downward trends, you’re running a terrible risk by walking away from what is known to be a very effective strategy to slow the spread,” Baker said.

Baker said existing social distancing regulations and closures have flattened the curve enough that hospitals are able to keep up. But he said that’s not enough. “The mechanisms all need to remain in place so we can soon do better than just keep up and actually get ahead,” he said.

Baker acknowledged how difficult the closings have been for people and for businesses, but he said reopening too soon could lead to a spike in infections and the re-imposition of stricter restrictions – which would be worse for individuals and the economy. “We have to be smart about how we do it and understand there are risks associated with going back too soon,” he said.

The governor stressed that there will be a phased-in reopening, guided by the recommendations of the new advisory board. He said it will likely include precautions related to face coverings, social distancing, and sanitization. Decisions about the reopening will be based on public health guidance and on monitoring data like hospitalization rates and community hotspots.

Baker said COVID-19 hospitalizations, a figure he monitors closely, have plateaued between 3,600 and 3,900 since April 14, but have not started trending downward yet. On Tuesday, the number of hospitalizations was 3,875 , down 17 from the day before. The number of COVID-19 cases increased by 1,840 to 58,302 on Tuesday, and the death toll rose by 150 to 3,153. Fatalities at long-term care facilities accounted for 75 percent of the new deaths and represented 57 percent of all deaths in the state.

The new reopening advisory board includes 17 members in addition to the two co-chairs. Three have public health or medical backgrounds, including Monica Bharel, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Health; Rochelle Walensky, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Mark Keroack, the president and CEO of Baystate Health in Springfield. Four are municipal or state government officials — state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and Kathryn Burton, the chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, represents the state’s education sector. The remaining nine are from the business community, including Aron Ain, the CEO of Kronos Inc.; Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of maritime and strategic systems at General Dynamics Mission Systems; Corey Thomas, the CEO of Rapid 7; Girish Navani, CEO of eClinicalWorks; Joe Bahena, senior vice president of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing; ; Linda Markham, president of Cape Air; Pamela Everhard, head of regional public affairs and community relations at Fidelity Investments; Steve DiFillippo, CEO of Davios Restaurants; and Wendy Hudson, the owner of Nantucket Book Partners.

“It’s incumbent on us to listen to all those voices from the biggest companies of Massachusetts to the smallest on our Main Streets and in the neighborhood of our communities and work together to address their concerns but also support them with the safe reopening of their business,” said Polito, who otherwise offered little guidance on how her advisory board will work.

Baker said the administration will provide regular updates about the board’s work.

Baker said questions, such as whether businesses should transition to remote work for the long term, will be up to the new advisory board. He noted that some countries have encouraged staggered work schedules to make it possible to have social distancing on public transportation. Baker also deferred to the board about whether daycare facilities could potentially reopen earlier than the end of June, since parents of young children may not be able to return to work without childcare.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Baker said he will continue to talk with other New England officials so the region can coordinate its re-openings. “We need to talk to each other and stay in touch so none of us does anything that unwittingly puts the others in a bad space,” he said.

Baker also extended his order requiring non-essential executive branch employees to work remotely.