Reopening plans remain big question mark

We don’t really know how the state will move to reopen the economy, but we now know who will come up with the plan. Gov. Charlie Baker tapped Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and his housing and economic development secretary, Mike Kennealy, to co-chair a 17-member Reopening Advisory Board.

Baker said it will be a phased and careful restart. “We have to be smart about how we do it and understand there are risks associated with going back too soon,” he said. In announcing the advisory board, Baker also extended the closure of non-essential businesses until May 18, giving the panel three weeks to come up with a plan (if there’s not another extension of the order).

The Herald’s Joe Battenfeld is not exactly wowed by the idea of Polito helming the effort, and points out the presence of several Polito campaign donors among the business, health care, and academic leaders named to the board.

Senate President Karen Spilka, speaking yesterday to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, wondered how reopening would work, speculating that workers on the 39th floor of a Boston office tower are unlikely to hike all the way there by stairs. But how would it work to go by elevator? One at time?

Talk about people dribbling into the office slowly.

And before they get to the building lobby, how will those who typically rely on public transportation even get downtown? The social distance in MBTA subway cars at rush hour is not exactly what Dr. Fauci has ordered.

“We are planning for 15 different scenarios. There are so many questions we can’t get answered yet,” Cindy Brown, chief executive of Boston Duck Tours, told the Globe.

Many business leaders the Globe spoke to said they would be relying on daily temperature checks of arriving employees. As we now know, however, that can miss lots of infected people who are asymptomatic.

Michael Tamasi, CEO of AccuRounds, an Avon precision manufacturer that has been operating because it’s deemed an essential business, said the firm has created three different lunch periods for its 75-person workforce so employees can spread out in the cafeteria. But the room is mostly empty.

“Most people are eating in their cars,” he said.

That captures the challenge that will be facing businesses as they reopen and hope to welcome back customers.

“Consumers may have permission to go do something. But whether they go do it depends upon how badly they want to do it and how safe they feel,” William Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business, told the Washington Post.

Translation for downtown Boston workers? Al’s Cafes may reopen, but will you want that Italian sub badly enough to stand in a line stretching out the door with six-foot intervals between customers? Or indulge in an online ordering system to get your hands on that meatball sub with everything?

The simplicity — and safety — of a brown paper bag with a homemade sandwich may suddenly be in fashion.

Other states have begun reopening, adopting a variety of measures designed to get the economy going again while still guarding against spread of the virus. But not everyone is jumping at the chance.

Olivia Wise, 22, a laid off waitress in New Braunfels, Texas, said her restaurant is reopening on Friday, but she’s more anxious than eager. “I personally think it’s still too soon,” she told the Post. “It’s awesome they want to get the economy going again, but it’s not worth risking getting my parents sick.”

In a new Washington Post poll, 66 percent of respondents — including 62 percent of Republicans — said that current limits on restaurants, stores, and businesses were “appropriate.” Only 17 percent said they were too restrictive.

Some economists say there could be a bit of a rebound effect from pent-up demand. But that is likely to be far overshadowed by continued worries about the virus and all the ways that a reopening “won’t be business as usual.” On top of all that will be all the belt tightening by those who remain out of work or have watched savings disappear in the huge stock market slide.

If it’s all too much doom and gloom, with the November election fast approaching, there is at least one voice of unbridled optimism.

President Trump, who has been burnishing his reputation for fact-free pronouncements at an accelerated pace during the crisis, declared that he thinks the “fourth quarter’s going to be incredibly strong.”

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

After “numerous fruitful discussions” with Republicans and members of his own party, House Speaker Robert DeLeo scraps a proposed rules change that would have made it harder to call for roll calls. (CommonWealth)  Howie Carr calls the aborted effort to put the kibosh on House roll calls “North Korea-like reforms” that DeLeo, the chamber’s “Supreme Leader,” hoped to ram through. (Boston Herald)

The conference committee negotiations over the eviction law show some of the difficulties of working out differences between the House and Senate when members can’t meet in person. (CommonWealth)

Five candidates have announced plans to run for the 13th Essex House seat being vacated by retiring Danvers Rep. Ted Speliotis. (The Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer’s coronavirus relief plan wins approval from the City Council and nearly $790,000, in federal relief funds should be rolling out to residents and businesses soon. (Berkshire Eagle)

Despite complaints about late-night parties, the Lawrence city council decides against moving forward with a proposed curfew. (Eagle-Tribune)

Springfield is starting large-scale testing of homeless people for COVID-19. (MassLive)

The Board of Health in Ashland mandates testing of nursing home staff members. (MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Northeastern University researchers say Boston was hit much earlier than previously believed by the virus. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts is still searching for more protective gear for health care workers. (The Salem News)

With no meetings, recovery spaces, or support groups available, experts worry social isolation could spell disaster for those struggling with addiction. (Patriot Ledger)

The Associated Press looks at the horrific COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, which has killed nearly 70 veterans. Internal board minutes and some emails shed some light on the situation. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A Globe editorial slams the Trump administration’s moves to deport infected immigrants back to countries with low coronavirus rates and limited health care infrastructure to deal with the pandemic.

Between infection rates, case fatality rates, and other figures that are still marked by considerable uncertainty, getting a handle on coronavirus statistics is complicated, but the virus is proving to be very lethal, say epidemiologists. (Washington Post)

Sweden continues to go its own way, imposing much more limited restrictions than any country affected by coronavirus. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Brianna Wu is abandoning her Democratic primary challenge to US Rep. Steve Lynch, citing the difficulty of campaigning amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston airline catering workers have been hit hard by coronavirus, says their union. (Boston Globe)

Though the coronavirus pandemic has limited some seafood markets and lowered prices, SouthCoast fishermen are still going out on trips. (Standard-Times)

Half a million medical gowns are on their way to nurses and doctors in Rhode Island, from a small business in Fall River. (Herald News)

Needham-based TripAdvisor is cutting its workforce by 25 percent by slashing 900 jobs. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

UMass Medical School will furlough 100 employees for up to six months. (Telegram & Gazette)

The state will allow about 1,000 high school seniors who did not pass the 10th grade MCAS exam to graduate if they can show they completed coursework with the same material covered on the test. (Boston Globe)

Schools’ remote learning plans will evolve again under new state guidance. (Telegram & Gazette)

Some schools are hoping to hold rescheduled proms and graduations for their seniors. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

How does the arts and culture sector rebound from COVID-19, asks Anita Walker, the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She’s got no answers — yet. (CommonWealth)

Nantucket Dreamland Film & Cultural Center is proposing drive-thru theaters for the summer as a safe option for moviegoers. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Steward Health Care System must pay scientist Lynn Hlatky $10.2 million after she sued in a complicated case that involved her research lab and years of work being destroyed. (Boston Globe) The court was split 3-3 along gender lines, with the three female justices siding with Hlatky. (Boston Herald) CommonWealth took an in-depth look at the case three years ago.

Massachusetts prisons and jails are among the hardest hit in the nation by the coronavirus, reports WBUR, but no real statistics are provided in the story. It does provide a good summary of cases and deaths in Massachusetts.

The Supreme Judicial Court balks at ordering the release of prisoners, but does urge the Baker administration to consider using commutations, furloughs, and parole to ease overcrowding during the pandemic. (WBUR) Hampden County Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi pushes back against the idea of widespread prisoner releases. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A Worcester family is appealing their daughter’s 152-day suspension from school for possessing marijuana, and the SJC rules that she can remain at her old school while the appeal continues. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Poynter tries to summarize layoffs at Gannett state by state.

Boston Magazine puts out a list of the 100 most influential people in Boston. Topping the list is everyone hunkering down at home, followed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Linda Henry, and US Attorney Andrew Lelling. MassINC’s Lauren Louison Grogan comes in at 90.

Media critic Dan Kennedy ponders if Report for America should be sending subsidized reporters to corporate media chains that have slashed positions in their newsrooms, like Gannett. (Media Nation)