Municipalities tweak Baker’s reopening plans

Towns customize approaches to beaches, businesses, and churches

MONTHS INTO THE coronavirus pandemic, cities and towns are taking reopening plans into their own hands, including in Gov. Charlie Baker’s own backyard.

The Select and Health Boards of Swampscott, where Baker lives, have passed a new emergency order that is, in some respects, stricter than the four-phase reopening plan announced by the governor on Monday.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the seaside town is taking the surprising move of not allowing any congregation on beaches, parks, or areas outside private households. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced Monday that the state will allow groups of fewer than 10 people on beaches–but spaced 12 feet apart.

The town is requiring that businesses submit plans for approval before reopening, specifically addressing how they will maintain proper social distancing and hygiene protocol. No such pre-approval exists on the state level, where Baker is asking that businesses compose their own plans, post them in a visible place, and have any protocols available in writing for possible inspections.

“All businesses and places of worship will be required to submit a work safety plan for approval of the town of Swampscott prior to opening,” Board of Health Chairwoman Marianne Hartmann told the Lynn Daily Item. “We say this not to impede any place from opening, you will be able to open on time. We’re not going to hold anybody up from opening.”

The requirement will be in place until the boards decide that coronavirus is no longer a public health emergency. Swampscott is not alone in taking a different approach from the state on reopening policies.

In New Bedford, a city hard-hit with 53 coronavirus deaths, Mayor Jon Mitchell says that Baker’s plan for church services limited to 40 percent of permitted capacity is “a little bit big for our view.” Mentioning that some houses of worship see attendance numbers of over 500, Mitchell is instead limiting attendance to 40 percent of permitted capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.

New Bedford will open its beaches in compliance with the state’s reopening order, but only New Bedford residents will be able to purchase a beach pass until further notice. Mitchell said the more stringent guidelines are needed because the city’s hospitalizations and new cases are not declining yet.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Earlier this week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced his own parting of ways with the state, saying he has no plans to lift the city’s curfew and he has concerns about opening offices at a quarter of normal capacity, the level set by the governor. Baker did put off the Boston start date for reopening office from Monday to June 1.

Walsh indicated the city will also look into how restaurants will reopen during the second phase of Baker’s plan, set to start in a little over two weeks. Outdoor dining and shutting down portions of the city’s streets to make space for socially-distanced tables are in the works.