Gyms, museums, movie theaters can reopen Monday

As other states pull back, Mass. moving to Phase 3

MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENTS tired of being cooped up will have far more entertainment options come Monday, as gyms, museums, and movie theaters begin to reopen as the state moves into the next phase of its reopening plan.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that Phase 3 of the state’s economic reopening will begin on Monday, July 6, statewide and a week later in Boston.

Baker said he made the decision based on positive trends regarding the spread of the virus in Massachusetts, despite spikes in case numbers elsewhere in the country. “The public health data makes clear that Massachusetts is effectively bringing the fight to the virus,” Baker said.

There are now 752 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, down 79 percent from mid-April, and an average of 21 COVID-19 deaths a day, down 86 percent from mid-April.

Restrictions on gatherings will also be loosened.

Although many more industries will reopen, they will look different, with capacity restrictions and new requirements related to cleaning and face coverings. Baker warned that COVID-19 has a much higher rate of transmission indoors than outdoors.

“It’s critical we be smart about how we do this,” Baker said. “The last thing we want to do is to move backwards as we’ve seen other states have to do.”

Baker said he has been encouraged after seeing the opening of indoor dining that most people are following the rules regarding things like social distancing, face coverings, and cleaning. “The place you get into the biggest trouble with respect to all this is not abiding by the rules,” Baker said.

Residents missing their exercise routines may return to fitness centers and health clubs, spin classes, weight training, and yoga, although hot tubs and steam rooms will remain closed. Gyms will be limited to 40 percent of capacity, and equipment must be spaced out and sanitized between uses. Face coverings will be required when it is safe, but if intense physical activity makes face coverings unsafe, customers will have to stay 14 feet apart from each other.

Indoor recreational activities with low levels of contact can open Monday – things like batting cages, bowling alleys, rock climbing, or driving ranges. Later on in Phase 3, at a date that has not yet been specified, recreational activities with the potential for more contact – like roller skating, laser tag, and trampolines – will be allowed to reopen.

For the first time since March, indoor entertainment venues like museums, aquariums, and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen. Cultural and historic sites will reopen, as can sightseeing tours like harbor cruises and duck tours. These could provide a potential boon to the hard-hit tourism industry, coming days after Baker announced that he would lift a 14-day quarantine requirement on visitors from seven nearby states.

Buses, trolleys, and duck tours will have to operate at 50 percent capacity and museums at 40 percent capacity, to ensure that visitors can remain six feet apart from each other. Movie theaters must operate at than 40 percent of their capacity, with a maximum of 25 people in one screening room. Attractions are encouraged to sell timed tickets and offer online sales.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy encouraged residents to enjoy summer in Massachusetts, with shops, attractions and parks reopening from the Cape to the Berkshires. “We’re now in heart of travel and tourism season,” Kennealy said.

Outdoor theater performances and concerts can begin Monday, with restrictions, with small indoor performances allowed to begin later on in Phase 3. Performers cannot mingle with the audience. Performance will be encouraged to stay six feet apart, wear face coverings and avoid intimate scenes or fight scenes that require prolonged close contact. At concerts, playing brass or wind instruments will be discouraged. If those instruments are used or if there is singing, performers must be 10 feet apart, with 25 feet of space between the musicians and the audience.

Professional sports teams will be allowed to begin playing without spectators – a milestone Baker celebrated at an event with the Red Sox at Fenway Park Thursday afternoon. Organized amateur sports can also resume.

Casinos are also eligible to reopen, under strict guidelines set out by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. There will be no craps, poker or roulette for now and capacity will be limited at other table games. Casinos are expected to take some time to retrain their staff. Encore Boston Harbor announced plans to reopen Sunday, July 12.

Gatherings restrictions will be loosened. Indoors, gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed in one room, up from 10, although with no more than eight people per 1,000 square feet.

Outdoor gatherings in enclosed spaces will be limited to 25 percent of a facility’s occupancy, up to 100 people at one event. This could allow community events, concerts, sporting events, or conventions – and personal celebrations like weddings, though without bars or dance floors.

Unlimited outdoor gatherings in unenclosed spaces – like parks and backyard barbeques – will be allowed as long as people abide by social distancing rules.

The City of Boston will open venues Monday, July 13. Baker said city officials asked for more time to work out permitting issues given the large number of venues and outdoor spaces in the city.

Not all attractions plan to immediately open. The Museum of Science, for example, plans to open some time later in July, according to spokeswoman Carrie Nash. Nash said the museum has modified over 150 exhibit components, changed or removed many materials for safer cleaning and is using mobile technology to replace hand-held audio devices. “The safety and wellbeing of our employees, volunteers, and visitors is our top priority and we will follow the best available science to ensure safe social distancing, masks/facial coverings, personal hygiene requirements and other safety measures,” Nash said.

Large capacity sports and entertainment venues cannot open until Phase 4, and neither can bars or nightclubs. Communities cannot hold street festivals or agricultural fairs until then. Baker reiterated that Phase 4, sometimes referred to as the “new normal,” will not happen until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 – which is likely to be months away.

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.

Baker acknowledged that keeping bars and nightclubs closed for the indefinite future was an “incredibly unpopular and enormously difficult” decision. But, he said, “I think the decision was the right one.” Baker said the administration could not find a way to reopen bars safely, and data from other states has born that out. Several states reopened bars, then closed them after spikes in infections were linked to gatherings in bars.

With the July 4 weekend coming up, Baker urged residents to travel within New England, avoid big crowds, spend time outdoors, wear face coverings and “be smart in how you make that backyard barbeque an enjoyable and safe event.”