Baker urges 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. COVID curfew
Lowers size of gatherings, shuts down restaurants, casinos, liquor stores at 9:30 p.m.
IN AN EFFORT to crack down on informal social events that he believes are fueling a steady increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday urged Massachusetts residents to embrace a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and placed new restrictions on gatherings, restaurants and entertainment venues, and the wearing of face-masks.
Even as he announced a series of initiatives to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the governor took a number of steps that indicate he believes the pandemic is not going away any time soon. His administration extended the contract of Partners in Health, which runs the state’s contact tracing initiative, an additional three months to the end of March and announced that the firm is hiring 305 more workers, bringing its total to 1,070, about 430 less than the high-point during the spring surge.
The governor said he saw no need to shut down schools or businesses, as he did in the spring, saying the spread of COVID-19 is not occurring in those locations. “Schools are not spreaders,” he said.
Instead, the governor pushed policies that he believes will curtail late-night parties and get-togethers. He limited gathering sizes to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, down from 25 and 50, respectively. He ordered restaurants, liquor and marijuana stores, theaters, casinos, gyms, golf facilities, youth sports, and museums to close from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The new orders and guidance take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Baker said.
As with previous orders and guidances, the governor indicated the goal is not to penalize residents but to discourage risky behavior. He said someone hosting a gathering in violation of his orders would be told to send everyone home, but he indicated fines would only be issued unless gatherings continued despite warnings.
“The data points to a clear need to do something about these trends now,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “We can’t afford to continue what we’ve been doing.”
The number of cases and communities at risk for the spread of COVID-19 has increased rapidly in recent weeks and the governor’s jaw-boning about the need to change attitudes and behavior as well as his testing initiatives have done little to blunt the rise.
Part of the problem is that the people suffering the most infections are young people in their teens, 20s, and 30s, who tend to get less sick from the disease and see less of a need for shutting down their social lives.
Baker said he saw hundreds of social media postings over the Halloween weekend from young people who were partying in close proximity to each other and not wearing masks. “It looked really fun – don’t get me wrong – but I can’t think of a worse way to battle and fight the rise in COVID cases than that,” he said.
The governor said he is hopeful people will heed the administration’s new orders and guidance. “Do I expect everybody to follow the rules? No, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this, it the fact that the vast majority of people in Massachusetts are rule followers and if you give them a reason and a guidance they will do it,” he said.
The Massachusetts Public Health Association, an advocacy group, questioned whether social gatherings were the real problem. The association issued a statement saying the cluster data indicated only 67 cases were due to social gatherings, while more than 1,000 were connected to where people work.
The association said much more aggressive actions are needed to address the spread of COVID-19. “Each of us must take responsibility to stop the spread, but COVID can’t be stopped by personal responsibility alone. Workers, people who need to double up in apartments because they were evicted, people living in shelters, and people who are incarcerated are just some of the folks suffering the most through no fault of their own,” said Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the association.
Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said restaurants are not contributing the spread of COVID-19 and shouldn’t have to shut down early. “Shutting restaurants early does not stop people from gathering,” he said. “It does make it easy to avoid the mandated and supervised safety steps including distancing, mask wearing and frequent use of sanitizer that occurs in restaurants by allowing people to gather unregulated at home and elsewhere.”Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, hailed the governor’s new initiatives. “The Commonwealth has reached yet another critical point with this virus,” he said in a statement. “Now is the time to reinvigorate our focus on stopping the spread. Our healthcare organizations and caregivers are counting on those in their communities to do their part and follow the life-saving guidance put forth by state and public health leaders.”
Separately, Baker announced that he is activating 1,000 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to be ready if local officials need them in the wake of Tuesday’s election.