Phase two goes into prep mode

Restaurants, lodging, and pro teams get guidance

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER  said the state currently remains on track for its phased reopening, and he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito outlined steps that restaurants, hotels, and professional sports franchises can take to begin to prepare for their rollout in phase two.

At a State House press conference on Friday, Baker said COVID-19 trend lines are heading in the right direction and, as long as they continue to do so through June 6, phase two should begin shortly after that, presumably on June 8. The governor said he will issue an order on Monday spelling out more specifically which businesses will be allowed to reopen during phase two, which will allow those companies to start preparations and to begin calling back employees.

Restaurants will start initially with outdoor seating only and then, if that works well, move indoors with strict guidelines. Tables will be required to be six feet apart and dining groups will be limited to no more than six people. Customers will be required to wear masks when moving about establishments, unless they are sitting at a table.  Bar seating will not be available for the time being.

For staff, a mask will be required at all times, and new protocols around reusable menus, utensil disinfection, and the cleaning of high volume spaces will become the norm. Tables will not be preset with plates and silverware, and don’t expect mustard and ketchup to be easily available. Easy access to shared condiments is one of many things that will be regulated.

Polito said the administration is working with the Legislature and municipalities to develop legislation that would streamline the process for restaurants gaining the necessary permits to use private and public outdoor spaces for dining. She said it currently takes as long as six weeks to make that happen.

“You’re going to see a lot of parking lots and other open spaces convert, which I think would be perfectly appropriate,” said Baker.

If a restaurant has a COVID-19 case, the business will have to close temporarily and disinfect in accordance with a Centers for Disease Control recommendation on how to do that.

Hotels, motels, and short-term rentals like Airbnb will similarly be allowed to expand operations in phase two. They’re currently only open to essential workers, but they will open to the general public in phase two.

Event spaces at those facilities, such as ballrooms and meeting rooms, will remain closed. On-site restaurants, pools, gyms, spas, golf courses, and other amenities at lodging sites may operate only if they are authorized to do so under the phased re-opening plan.

Hotel managers and staff must inform guests who make reservations that the state has a policy of travelers self-quarantining for 14 days when arriving from out of state. Polito clarified that the policy is voluntary. “It is up to the individual customer, consumer to self-comply,” she said.

Contactless payment and delivery protocols, like room service and dry cleaning, are recommended. Self-serve water, coffee, and public cloakrooms will be closed, and paper amenities such as magazines and travel brochures will only be made available upon request.

Restaurants and hotels that take reservations will be required to save that information so that the state’s contract tracing effort can use the data in case someone at the facility becomes infected and it is necessary to track down contacts.

Baker said professional sports teams can start using their facilities for practices during phase two. He said the practice facilities will not be open to the public, but he expressed hope that the sports leagues will be able to develop plans that will allow the resumption of real games in the future.

“There’s just so many times you can actually watch the Patriots beat the Falcons or the Celtics beat the Lakers or the Bruins beat the Canucks or the Red Sox beat the Yankees or the Cardinals or the Angels,” Baker said. “At some point it’s got to be live and I think for all of us live sports, and especially professional sports, will be great to see again.”

While the governor laid out his timetable for phase two, there’s no guarantee that all municipal leaders will follow along. Daniel Rivera, the mayor of Lawrence, issued an advisory on Friday saying the city will issue its own guidance for restaurants on June 8 and it may take a more cautious approach. “It is clear to me that we are not as prepared as other communities to move into Phase 2,” Rivera said, noting the city is still locked in a struggle with the coronavirus. “We know this is an incredible hardship to all our businesses, but the amount of death and sickness that has hit our city warrants an opening approach that is in line with the Commonwealth but at pace based on our current place in the fight against the virus.”

Some business leaders say that brick and mortar store owners are very frustrated with the slow timeline of Baker’s reopening plan, and the little detail on timing being provided.

“Restaurants provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in Massachusetts and those business owners need to know as soon as possible a hard date of when they will be allowed to reopen to customers,” said Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

The very gradual steps make it difficult to prepare and plan. We’ve already heard about too many restaurants closing their doors for good because they were shut down for so long,” he said. The organization advocates on behalf of 5,000 small businesses in Massachusetts. Carlozzi said the state is lagging behind New Hampshire and Rhode Island, which already allow dining options beyond take-out and delivery.

Baker has dealt with such criticisms by comparing the much different scenario Massachusetts has found itself in, with COVID-19 deaths now totaling 6,718 and infections topping 95,000.  Both the governor and lieutenant governor stressed that public health data will drive their decision-making.

“We understand the importance of balancing public health and economic health,” Polito said.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, 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 bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, 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.

The restaurant guidance is available here.

The lodging guidance is available here.