Essential or non-essential, who decides?

Deciding which businesses are essential and which ones are nonessential during a pandemic can sometimes get tricky.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on March 23 banned all medical procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary.” His order said nothing about abortions, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, an outspoken opponent of abortions, ruled that the procedures were covered by the order in part because they would use up resources (medical staff and personal protection equipment) that should be reserved for dealing with COVID-19. The fight ping-ponged back and forth in the courts until an appeals court held that medication-assisted abortions were exempt from the ban.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine set up a Dispute Resolution Commission to sort out differing interpretations of essentiality. In its first set of rulings this week, the panel deemed pet groomers and businesses selling CBD oil are nonessential. Car washes were ruled essential, as long as employees have no interaction with customers and don’t hand-wash or hand-dry vehicles.

In Massachusetts, there have been court challenges to Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision that recreational marijuana and gun shops are nonessential, but otherwise most of the judgment calls about essential vs. nonessential have taken place out of the public eye.

The Berkshire Eagle peels back the curtain on the process a bit with a story on the well-known Annie Selke Cos., which operates a warehouse in Pittsfield that distributes home design products under the Pine Cone Hill, Dash & Albert, Annie Selkie Luxe, Fresh American, and Annie Selke Outlet brands.

According to the story, the operation clearly fell in the non-essential category but Selke indicated she might stay open by shifting production to high-priority items like face masks. Gina Armstrong, Pittsfield’s health director, waited for evidence of the shift but, receiving none, ordered the shutdown of the facility on April 8.

On Friday, city officials conducted an on-site inspection of the warehouse and discovered it was still operating after being given a reprieve by the Baker administration.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the determination or with the exception,” said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. “I don’t agree, though, that all the other elements of the operation should continue to function.”

A spokesman for the Baker administration quickly agreed with Tyer’s position. The spokesman said Selke was granted a reprieve only for producing face masks, nothing else. That message was reinforced in an email to Selke, who responded by saying “all is noted and cleared.”

Lori King, the CEO of the Annie Selke Cos., acted as if it was all a big misunderstanding. “We didn’t go against any order,” she said. “We did exactly what the city told us to do.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration releases a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by municipality, but in some communities the numbers may be misleading. For example, Is Williamstown really a hotspot? (CommonWealth)

Amid ominous reports on COVID-19 deaths and tests, the Baker administration steers additional funding to nursing homes. (CommonWealth)

Democrats overrule Republicans on a legislative conference committee and send an eviction bill on to the two branches for approval. (State House News Service)

State officials are pushing back on coronavirus projections from a University of Washington research group that is forecasting a gloomier outlook for Massachusetts than its original model suggested. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Sharon Cornelissen, a researcher at Harvard University, is planning to write a book about first-time homebuyers in Brockton and the city’s changing demographics. (The Enterprise)

The YMCA of the North Shore is scrambling to find a temporary home for residents of the Cabot Street YMCA, which is being redeveloped, after a plan to use a nearby former convent fell through. (Salem News)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

Two thoughts on death in the COVID-19 era — the shock of HAZMAT suits at the cemetery and advice from Gov. Charlie Baker to leave nothing unsaid with loved ones. (CommonWealth)

Towns consider fines, criminal trespass for social distancing violators (Patriot Ledger)

ELECTIONS

Elizabeth Warren says she would accept if Joe Biden asked her to be his running mate. (Boston Globe) James Pindell says Warren’s Biden endorsement yesterday, like many of her major political moves, was an example of bad timing. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Mayor Marty Walsh told Boston business leaders the eventual restart of the local economy will likely happen gradually. (Boston Globe)

Worcester businesses say the federal Paycheck Protection Program has been a mess, with no loan money granted yet. (MassLive)

Amazon wants to hire 400 more workers for its Fall River facility to keep up with demand as stores remain closed. (Herald News)

Summer internships are looking iffy. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

An MIT report gives good scores to the state’s education guidance during the pandemic shutdown. Massachusetts comes in tied for second in the nation behind…Texas. (CommonWealth)

A Boston Herald editorial says highly-paid UMass honchos, including President Marty Meehan, should follow Harvard’s lead and take pay cuts.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Blacks account for a high share of Boston’s COVID-19 cases. (CommonWealth)

The New York Times looks at the huge contact tracing effort getting underway in Massachusetts.

Dentists and their patients are feeling pain from the shutdown, with most small private practices shuttered. (WGBH)

Researchers are testing thousands of existing drugs to see if they can treat COVID-19. (WGBH)

ARTS/CULTURE

Old Sturbridge Village furloughs many of its workers. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Standard-Times begins a two-part series on how musicians and concert venues are reacting to COVID-era shutdowns.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Baker administration revises its subsidy program for solar power, expanding its size and increasing subsidies for solar in low-income areas. (State House News/paywall)

The US Department of Commerce has awarded a $1 million grant to Barnstable County to alleviate effects of extreme weather on the region and address coastal resiliency. (Cape Cod Times)

Residents opposed to a natural gas compressor station being built on the banks of the Fore River say construction workers from out of state are not following physical distancing guidelines. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Suspended Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph’s attorney accuses US Attorney Andrew Lelling of political bias. (CommonWealth)

A girl believed to be in her teens was shot and killed yesterday afternoon on a Dorchester street and an 18-year-old male is in custody facing murder charges. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

MassLive staff faces furloughs and job cuts as the free news website seeks out subscribers. (CommonWealth)

To cut costs, the Eagle-Tribune won’t publish a print paper on Tuesdays and Saturdays. (Eagle-Tribune)

WBUR raises just over $1 million in 13 hours with an on-air fundraising blitz. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

A report on President Trump and the media issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists says his attacks on the press have “dangerously undermined truth and consensus in a deeply divided country” amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Washington Post)