Baker sees some promising COVID signs

Lifts 9:30 p.m. shutdown time for businesses

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, citing positive trends in COVID-19 data, said that starting Monday he plans to lift a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. stay-at-home advisory and a curfew that left many businesses shuttering at 9:30 p.m. over the past 2 ½ months.

“Vaccines are reaching residents. Positive case rates and hospitalizations have stabilized. Those trends are moving in the right direction,” Baker said at a State House press conference on Thursday. “As a result, we believe it’s OK and it’s time to start a gradual easing of some of the restrictions we put in place in the fall.”

Hospitalizations, Baker said, are down 10 percent since peaking in early January. The average positive test rate (positive tests divided by total tests) has gone down 33 percent, and the seven-day average of cases is down about 30 percent.

Baker imposed the stay-at-home advisory and the 9:30 p.m. shutdown time on businesses in early November in an attempt to stop a second surge. The businesses affected included restaurants, casinos, golf facilities, youth sports, health clubs, liquor stores, cannabis shops, museums, and theaters.

The governor at that time also limited gathering sizes to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, down from 25 and 50, respectively. He also ordered people to wear face-masks in public places, even when they can socially distance.

Number of high-risk communities finally drops — click here.

Flanked by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, Baker said the 25 percent capacity limit on most businesses that was first instituted in late December has been extended until at least February 8.

The restaurant industry is pleased by the change, but still sore from the economic impact the restrictions inflicted.

“Allowing diners to have more time to enjoy time out of the house, in a supervised, regulated, and proven safe environment is a great step to moving away from unregulated private gatherings,” said Bob Luz, CEO of the 4,000-member Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

Restaurants have essentially lost their entire second seating, or the second round of guests for dinner, which dramatically affected revenues and their ability to keep their staff employed, according to the Restaurant Association.

“The last time a guest could comfortably be seated was 8 p.m., and the Greater Boston restaurant scene with a more international, cosmopolitan, and, as a result, later evening dining guest was essentially shutdown,” said Luz.

One of the impacted business owners was Doug Bacon, CEO of Red Paint Hospitality Group, which has only four of its eight restaurants (the White Horse Tavern, Hopewell Bar and Kitchen, the Westland, and the Corner Tavern) open. Bacon previously criticized Baker’s curfew move, and said the change to allow later service is welcome news.

“The early closing was especially damaging for restaurants in Boston, like mine,” he said. “Some of my businesses lost 40 percent of sales due to the 9:30 p.m. closing. We were forced to cut staffing and reduce scheduled hours in all locations.”

Bacon is planning to restore shifts and hours to furloughed employees starting Monday. A month ago, he was down to less than 25 percent of his pre-COVID workforce.

“The demographic of people who live in Boston is such that those people work later and are often looking for food and drinks at 11:00 p.m. and even later,” he said in an interview. “Hopefully this is just one step forward toward removing more restrictions on restaurants.”

Meet the Author

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.

Almost 1,000 restaurants have closed indoor dining and moved to takeout/delivery only, or are hibernating until the spring. Over 3,400 restaurants never re-opened after last spring’s coronavirus-related closures.

Restaurants have received some economic relief from the state. Kennealy announced Thursday that 630 additional small businesses, including 200 restaurants, are receiving economic relief grants. The state has dispensed $232 million so far to small businesses, according to Polito.