Baker heralds approach of ‘next normal’

Stadiums to reopen, capacity limits lifted on restaurants

PLAY BALL! 

In the clearest sign yet of confidence that the state is getting a handle on the COVID pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Thursday a broad set of new reopening orders, including clearing the way for fans at Fenway Park for the Red Sox home opener on April 1. Perhaps not coincidentally, Baker’s headline-grabbing proclamation came less than an hour after he finished testifying at a Beacon Hill oversight hearing, where lawmakers ripped him over the troubled rollout of the state’s vaccine sign-up website. 

Starting Monday, Baker said theaters and other performance venues can reopen with 50 percent capacity limits and restaurants will have no overall capacity limits as long they maintain six feet of distance between tables and have parties of no more than six people, who remain for no more than 90 minutes.

On March 22, if health measures continue to move in the right direction, indoor and outdoor stadiums holding more than 5,000 spectators will be permitted to reopen at 12 percent of capacity. Dance floors at weddings and other private parties would also be allowed, summer camps could reopen, and event spaces and public gatherings will be permitted with up to 150 people at outdoors sites and 100 people at indoor locations. 

“Today’s announcement is a good sign and a move in the right direction toward getting back to that next normal,” said Baker. “But we know businesses continue to hurt and that we have to find ways to help them get through all this,” he said, speaking at a Salem restaurant that has received a grant from the state targeted at businesses hit hard by the pandemic. 

The restrictions lifted for Monday will bring the state back to the second step of its Phase 3 reopening, while those slated for March 22 represent the beginning step of Phase 4, the last stage of the reopening plan first unveiled last May. 

The state vaccine sign-up website again experienced problems this morning when 50,000 new appointments were made available, frustrating hundreds of people who tried to register. But Baker pushed back on the idea that it was anything like the meltdown of last Thursday. 

“First of all, the website didn’t crash today. There were no widespread outages on the site today,” he said. 

Baker maintained that the fundamental problem — and cause of anxiety and concern among the public — is the inadequate delivery of vaccine doses from the federal government to meet the surge in demand. “I continue to believe that our biggest problem under any scenario here is we don’t have enough supply to meet demand,” he said. “This is a complete zero sum game at this point,” Baker said, adding that any proposed rejiggering of the vaccine allocation system would just result in a new set of residents frustrated at having their shots delayed.  

Along with the reopening announcement, Baker touted the more than $560 million the state has awarded in grants to more than 12,000 businesses hurt by the pandemic. He said $49 million of that has recently been awarded to 1,108 businesses, more than half of which are women- and minority-owned firms. 

Restaurants will also be able to begin having live music again, and other venues, such as laser tag and roller skating rink, will be able to reopen at 50 percent capacity. 

Baker said it is not just the lifting of restrictions that will help businesses but the increased willingness of the public to venture out at this stage. 

“The single biggest thing that I think is important to remember today when it comes to restaurants and other indoor entertainment venues and even the outdoor ones is as COVID cases go down, as vaccinations go up, you will find people comfortable and more willing to go and play a bit,” he said. 

He said local communities continue to be free to lift restrictions more slowly than the state reopening orders. He suggested some might do that with an eye toward heading off large St. Patrick’s Day gatherings. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Asked what he thought the scene would be at Fenway Park on opening day, Baker said he’d leave that to the Red Sox. “I’m sure there’ll be a big American flag hanging off the Green Monster in left field, but beyond that, I got no idea.”