Mass. economy to reopen in four phases
Restart will include mandatory workplace safety standards
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER announced plans on Monday for a cautious reopening of the Massachusetts economy, a process that will happen in phases and could be halted or even reversed if public health indicators begin moving in the wrong direction in the state’s effort to quell the coronavirus pandemic.
Baker said there will be four phases to the restart, as the state gradually permits more sectors to open. The administration also announced mandatory workplace safety standards that all sectors will have to observe as part of the effort to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus.
“The goal of the reopening plan is to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health and limiting a possible resurgence of new COVID-19 cases,” Baker said at a State House briefing. He gave no firm timetable for the start of any of the four phases – though suggested May 18 as the goal for beginning the first phase — and did not identify the sectors that will be permitted to reopen under any one of them.
Phase 1, termed “Start,” will allow the reopening with stringent restrictions of industries that involve more limited face-to-face interactions. Phase 2, dubbed “Cautious,” will allow more sectors to open, with strict capacity limits, followed by more sectors in Phase 3, which is termed “Vigilant.” The final phase, which is termed “New Normal,” would coincide with the availability of a coronavirus vaccine or effective treatments.
The administration also announced mandatory workplace safety standards that all industries must adhere to in order to remain open. They include workplace accommodations for social distancing, mandatory wearing of masks or face coverings by all employees, regular sanitation of “high touch” areas, and protocols for dealing with employees who develop COVID-19, including plans for their safe return to work.
Monday’s announcement came one week before the May 18 deadline for a comprehensive report from the Reopening Advisory Board, the panel charged by Baker with developing a plan for ending the unprecedented shutdown of broad swaths of the state’s economy because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Baker he hopes the start of the Phase 1 reopening will coincide with next week’s release of the board’s report. “The goal is to begin this process around May 18, but it will be gradual and the facts on the ground will obviously determine whether we actually hit that goal,” he said. Additional sector-specific safety requirements will also be announced as part of the reopening board’s report.
Baker repeatedly cited the many uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus and said the goal is to reopen the state while avoiding moving too quickly and seeing the pandemic begin to accelerate again. “We’re all focused on getting to that place,” Baker said of the restart, “but we have to ensure that when we take one step forward we do not end up taking two steps back.”
Baker said Massachusetts has been one of the hardest-hit states, but he sounded a note of encouragement about recent trends. Statewide efforts have been paying off, “and we have in fact flattened the curve,” he said of the virus’s trajectory.
Most of the COVID-19 benchmarks continued to trend in a positive direction on Monday. The number of cases fell 36 percent to 669, the lowest level since March 26. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations fell slightly, but continued a general downward trend that has been going on for 19 days. COVID-19 patients in intensive care remained stable, rising by three to 813.
Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which advocates on behalf of small businesses, said it was heartening to see plans taking shape for reopening.
“It is encouraging to hear Gov. Baker outlining preliminary steps for reopening the Massachusetts economy over the coming weeks because too many small businesses have had their doors closed for an extended period,” Carlozzi said in a statement. “Small businesses hope the May 18 date for the start phase can take place as planned because if it is delayed much longer many will run out of cash and they hope not to have to close their doors forever.”Carlozzi testified at hearing on Saturday of the reopening board, along with a manufacturer, salon owner, and health club owner.
Since its inception on April 28, the board, headed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Baker’s economic development secretary, Mike Kennealy, has met with stakeholders from 44 different industry, associations, and community coalitions, representing more than 110,000 businesses and more than 2 million workers across the state.