Virus notes: Baker calls new face mask guidance appropriate

New law allows sales of alcohol with takeout food

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER didn’t wear a face mask at a press availability on Sunday, but he said new guidance from the federal government urging people to wear masks under certain conditions was appropriate.

“As I understand the CDC’s new guidance, it’s basically if you are outside and if you’re going to be outside in a way you don’t have the ability to engage in the kind of social distancing that we and others have been messaging for a while now, then they do recommend wearing a mask to basically make sure you don’t infect anyone else,” Baker said. “I think that’s perfectly appropriate guidance.”

Baker said an added advantage of masks is that they prevent people from touching their fingers to their mouth.

The governor said last week that he and his staff weren’t wearing masks because they were practicing social distancing, conducting meetings by phone, and remaining six feet apart from others at press conferences and when he is out and about. He also said personal protection equipment, or PPE, should be reserved for people on the frontlines of the disease.

“If we have PPE available, we’re giving it to first responders, emergency medical personnel, and health care workers because they are the ones who spend the most time in close contact with people generally who are symptomatic,” he said.

On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control revised its position on face masks, which had mirrored the position taken last week by Baker. The new guidance said “research now shows a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”

Citing the new evidence, the CDC recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Baker made his comments near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, where a drive-through testing facility has been set up to test first-responders for the coronavirus. He said similar facilities will likely be set up in western Massachusetts and the Merrimack Valley.

He said the state should enter the peak of the virus spread starting Friday and extending through April 20, but he acknowledged that projection could be off by a couple days. He said some models say it will start on Tuesday and run through Apri 17, while others say it will start today and run through April 15.

“We are planning for a variety of scenarios,” he said.

Baker said the state also received a shipment of 100 ventilators from the national stockpile, far less than the 1,000 he was promised last week.

Santiago says traffic in ER picking up

State Rep. Jon Santiago, who works as an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, tweeted a video message Sunday morning saying traffic in the ER is picking up and the patients seem to be sicker.

He said some patients discharged earlier with COVID-19 were back sicker than before. many of them requiring ventilators.

He said one of his patients was transferred from a nursing home and seemed to have COVID-19. He said he was struggling with putting the patient, who is in his 80s, on a breathing tube and ventilator when he believed he would never get off the ventilator. Making the situation more difficult, he said, was the fact that the patient’s family couldn’t see him and could only learn about his condition by phone.

“My guess is we will have more of this in the future,” he said.

Restaurants can now sell takeout alcohol

As of this weekend, restaurants with alcohol licenses are now allowed to sell beer and wine with a takeout food order.

The provision was included in a municipal governance bill that the Legislature passed last week and Gov. Charlie Baker signed Friday. It is part of an effort to help businesses that are struggling due to the coronavirus-related shutdowns.

Under Baker’s earlier orders, restaurants have been shut down for in-person dining, but they can continue to sell takeout. The new policy lets any restaurant that has a license to sell alcohol on the premises include beer and wine with a takeout order.

Under the language of the bill, restaurants must make sure the person receiving the alcohol is over 21, and they cannot include alcohol in an order placed after midnight or after the time the business is licensed to sell alcohol. Orders are limited to 192 ounces of a malt beverage or 1.5 liters of wine per transaction. The alcohol must be sold in its original, sealed containers.

The bill also gives cities and towns more flexibility in scheduling their town meetings past June 30 and rescheduling them as needed; gives municipalities budget-related flexibilities; and extends permits, hearings, construction approvals and other deadlines. It lets retired municipal workers return to work to help with the COVID-19 response, and lifts restrictions on the number of hours they can work without affecting their pensions.

The bill gives towns the option of extending the property tax payment date from April 1 to June 1 and waiving late fees. It prohibits the termination of water, sewer, trash collection and other essential municipal services if a resident cannot pay taxes or fees due to a coronavirus-related hardship.

It officially extends the state income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, a move Baker had previously announced.

Meet the Author

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.

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.

According to the Department of Revenue, the extension applies to personal income taxes, estate and trust income taxes, taxes owed by an individual on repatriated income, and the first installment of estimated taxes. The year’s second installment of estimated taxes is now also due July 15, rather than June 15. The department will also waive any late fees for corporate excise tax returns that are due April 15 and paid by July 15.

Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Jim O’Day, who co-chair the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, said in a joint statement that the bill “is a first step in addressing the numerous challenges that local governments will face during this pandemic period.” The lawmakers said additional legislative action to address issues facing cities and towns will be forthcoming.