Baker extends state shutdown until May 4

Tightens rules on who can book hotels, Airbnbs

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Tuesday urged Massachusetts residents to continue all existing social distancing measures and ordered all non-essential businesses to keep their offices and factories closed until May 4.

Baker said there are signs the efforts are having an impact, but with the state on the eve of an expected surge in COVID-19 cases he said this is no time to back off. Indeed, he called for tightening the measures when it comes to hotels, bed and breakfasts, and short-term rentals, moves that he acknowledged would be controversial on Cape Cod and in the Berkshires.

“I know this is difficult to hear, but we need everyone to continue to go without being around many of your family and most of your friends for your own health and safety and for the health and safety of your family and friends,” Baker said.

Baker said he knows the pain many people are experiencing, mentioning his own frustration with having to make do with calls rather than personal visits to his father. “I miss him, but that’s just the way it is and the way it should be,” Baker said.

Under an order issued last week, lodging firms were identified as essential businesses and allowed to remain open. On Tuesday, the governor issued new guidance limiting who could actually book rooms.

The guidance said people already staying at hotels or short-term rentals such as Airbnb can finish their stay, but after that all guests must fall into a number of fairly narrow categories.

“The point here is to reserve these spaces for people who need them as a result of circumstances that relate to or were caused by COVID-19 or other emergencies,” Baker said.

That could include first responders, medical workers, out-of-state workers assisting in the response to COVID-19, as well as the homeless, individuals forced from their homes by fire or other emergencies, and people who are self-quarantining themselves or who are separating themselves from quarantining roommates or family members.

Baker said people need to get their priorities straight and not even be thinking about getting away on a vacation. “People should be staying at home,” he said.

Baker has been pressured to add recreational marijuana enterprises to his list of essential businesses, just as liquor stores are included on the list. But Baker declined to do so, saying he worries that recreational marijuana businesses would attract people from out of state.

“It’s a nonstarter with us,” he said of adding recreational marijuana to the essential business list.

Chiropractors and optometrists were added to this list, as well as workers providing disinfectant and sanitations services. Click here for the essential services extension order, here for the full list of essential services, and here for essential services frequently asked questions.

Baker also said he is keeping an eye on parks and beaches where people have been gathering on occasion. He indicated restrictions on such gathering may come if problems persist.

“When we see things that trouble us, we’ll do something about that,” he said.

Baker said all the efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are having an impact. He said the timing of the surge has moved back a bit, suggesting the upward shape of the curve of cases has flattened a bit.

While residents continue to hunker down at home, Baker said his administration is continuing to prepare for an onslaught of COVID-19 cases. For example, a 250-bed field medical station is being set up at the Worcester DCU Center to handle lower acuity patients that can be moved out of hospital facilities to make room for more COVID-19 patients. The field station in Worcester will be operated by UMass Memorial Medical Center. The administration is looking to establish two more field centers in other parts of the state.

As Baker prepares for a surge expected sometime between April 7 and April 17, he sounded more and more like a military general. “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in this battle,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

He urged residents to stay at home, practice social distancing, and wash their hands frequently. He called distancing the most important tool residents have to stem the tide of the disease. “It is in many respects our single biggest weapon in battling COVID-19,” he said.

“We’ve asked you to stay home, to not go to work, to not go to school , to skip weddings, to skip funerals, to skip going to the houses of worship that for many people are critical to their spiritual development. We have asked you to miss out on important precious time spent with family and friends. We know we are asking a lot. “