Are you essential or not?

Gov. Charlie Baker’s list of essential businesses that can remain open for the next two weeks is a statement about what’s important in our society.

Medical facilities and the people who staff them are at the top of the heap in this time of the coronavirus. So are first responders and public safety workers, as well as employees who provide heat, light, water, food, and medicine. All of them can continue heading to their jobs at power plants, grocery stores, and pharmacies.

The list also includes gas stations, laundromats, places of worship, news organizations, and stores that sell pet supplies, auto supplies, home appliances, and home improvement and repair items.

But employees at law firms, development companies, and investment firms are missing from the list and expected to stay at home and work remotely. Even though they are typically highly paid, they aren’t essential.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that liquor stores are deemed essential. Baker said that decision was based largely on guidance from the federal government. Most of the states that have already closed nonessential businesses, including New York, California, and New Jersey, have allowed liquor stores to remain open.

But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s two-week shutdown order extended to state liquor stores. Tim Holden, the chair of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said in a statement that closing the stores was a difficult decision that will cause a lot of disruption. “But in these uncertain and unprecedented times, the public health crisis and mitigation effort must take priority over the sale of wine and spirits, as the health and safety of our employees and communities is paramount,” Holden said.

Baker decided medical marijuana businesses were essential. But recreational marijuana was deemed nonessential because, according to Baker, the relatively few stores that exist tend to be crowded and attract people from out of state. Marijuana advocates cried foul, saying recreational marijuana could be sold while maintaining social distancing.

“There are thoughtful ways to do this, but to just knock it out — it isn’t right, and it’s not fair,” said David O’Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “It’s discriminatory to adult-use cannabis consumers in a state where it’s legal.”

The state’s list of essential jobs has some gray areas. The list includes “workers conducting research critical to COVID-19 response” but says nothing about the vast biopharma sector that has been an important driver of the state’s economy.

Robert Coughlin, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, sent out an email saying he checked with the Baker administration after the list was released and learned “that all biopharma R&D is essential and exempt.”

Baker’s list also includes “plumbers, electricians, exterminators, inspectors, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, construction sites and projects, and needed facilities.”

Does that mean a new roof can be put on a house? Does it mean a tree can be cut down and removed from a backyard?

“This list is based on federal guidance and amended to reflect the needs of Massachusetts’ unique economy,” says the introduction to the list. “If the function of your business is not listed above, but you believe that it is essential or it is an entity providing essential services or functions, you may request designation as an essential business.” Click here for the form.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker orders all non-essential businesses to be shuttered, but there’s a long list of exemptions. He also tightens restrictions on gatherings, lowering the allowable number of participants from 25 to 10. (CommonWealth)

Virus notes: Despite being cut off from others and infection concerns, Baker says we still have purpose in our lives….Elections postponed and eviction legislation coming. (CommonWealth)

So far, 22.3 percent of Massachusetts residents have responded to the census online, higher than the national average. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Ashland creates a public-private partnership to feed the needy during the COVID-19 epidemic. (Metrowest Daily News)

Boston has hired the firm run by retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to help coordinate the city’s response to coronavirus. (Boston Herald)

An Easton teen is finally on her way home after being stuck in Argentina due to coronavirus. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

No time for Games: The Tokyo summer Olympics are postponed. (NPR)

President Trump, Wall Street executives, and conservative economists have begun questioning whether stay-at-home orders have gone too far, while public health experts say any let up right now could significantly worsen the death toll from coronavirus. (New York Times)

A Joe Biden shout-out for “Gov. Charlie Parker of Massachusetts.”  (Boston Globe)

LIFE WITH CORONAVIRUS

People are sewing masks for health care workers. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Some North Shore beaches are closing to discourage gatherings. (Gloucester Daily Times) In Haverhill, the police are being sent to parks and fields to make sure people aren’t gathering. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston College basketball broadcaster Josh Maurer has symptoms of COVID-19 but can’t get tested; meanwhile, 20 Boston College students have tested positive. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

Two takes on how to protect our health and our democracy: Push back nominating signature deadlines and consider reducing the number required, from John McDonough, Paul Hattis, and David Jones, and move to electronic signature gathering, from Brian Fitzgibbons. (CommonWealth)

The Springfield Republican editorial board says Joe Biden’s liberalism is what the country needs right now.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Vox’s Ezra Klein takes stock of how bad it could all get for the economy. (Spoiler alert: very).

To no one’s surprise, the state is seeing a huge spike in unemployment claims. (Telegram & Gazette)

Could cellphone location tracking information be useful in battling the spread of coronavirus, or would it be yet another big-data invasion into our lives? (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Amherst College fired lacrosse coach Jon Thompson for a racial incident and placed the sport on probation for next year. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduces a bill to cancel student debt amid the coronavirus outbreak. (MassLive)

All aspects of college planning — from campus visits to SAT test taking — are being derailed by the pandemic. (Boston Globe)

One group of unsung heroes of the coronavirus era are school custodians. (Herald News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Some urgent care facilities are being turned into COVID-19 testing sites. (The Salem News) Baystate Health, where 50 patients have tested positive for COVID-19, gets approval to use its Holyoke lab to process COVID-19 tests. (MassLive) Meanwhile, advocates urge safe virus testing for immigrants (Cape Cod Times)

With family visits barred by the coronavirus precautions, nursing homes find creative ways to reconnect elders and loved ones. (Patriot Ledger)

Loss of smell may be an early sign of COVID-19. (MassLive)

The Centers for Disease Control says the coronavirus remained active in Princess Cruise ship cabins for 17 days after passengers left. (CNBC)

Cambridge-based Moderna may seek approval for emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine by the fall, though widespread availability of a vaccine is not expected for 12 to 18 months. (Boston Globe)

Cape and Islands officials have been asking people not to come there as a way to escape the coronavirus, warning that local hospitals there don’t have the capacity to handle all the people who may get sick. (WGBH)

TRANSPORTATION

State transportation officials struggle with the coronavirus-induced reduction in traffic. Toll revenues on the Massachusetts Turnpike and fare revenues at the T are plummeting. (CommonWealth)

The MBTA board approved plans to consolidate several stops along the “B” branch of the Green Line in order to speed up trips. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

When prisoners die due to poor medical care, jails often keep it secret. Part 1 of a WBUR investigation.

As COVID-19 hits prisons, worry spreads. (CommonWealth)

Courts are changing practices to address coronavirus. (Gloucester Daily Times)

MEDIA

The coronavirus is a media extinction event, says BuzzFeed.

San Diego magazine is folding after 72 years. (Times of San Diego)