Baker’s 3-foot social distancing discrepancy

3 feet on the MBTA, 6 feet everywhere else

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER  indicated on Friday that he is willing to accept the fact his administration generally advocates for six feet of social distancing in most public spaces while the MBTA is using the World Health Organization’s three-foot standard when assessing crowding on subways and buses.

“I think it depends on the circumstances and the situation,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “I think if you’re going to be in a place for a long time indoors, the six feet issue is the right way to go. But if the WHO thinks three feet on public transportation, as long as you’re wearing a mask and everything else, I’m not going to argue with them.”

When it was pointed out that the US Centers for Disease Control recommends six feet of social distancing on public transit, Baker threw up his arms and said: “Welcome to the coronavirus.”

The governor said it’s not easy sorting out all the conflicting advice on the coronavirus, particularly when it changes so frequently. He recalled that many people used to think taking the temperature of people was enough to determine whether they had COVID-19 symptoms. Then, he said, it was assumed that there was an incubation period of a couple days where people had the virus but exhibited no symtoms. Now, many assume a large percentage of those infected can have the virus and never exhibit any symptoms.

“One of the greatest challenges we all face as public officials is the changing nature of what people believe to be true, what people believe works best, and how to frame that into a set of policies on a playing field where knowledge is constantly changing and moving,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The issue surfaced when the MBTA began making preparations for how to serve more customers as the state economy reopens. T officials say they intend to add additional service if they determine buses or subway cars are becoming too crowded. To measure crowding, T officials are using a standard from the World Health Organization that calls for three feet of distance between customers rather than the CDC guideline that calls for six feet.

Earlier this week at a press conference at Maverick Station on the Blue Line, Baker said he hadn’t read the WHO guidelines and would have no comment until he did. Baker was asked about the issue again on Friday at a press conference where he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito released guidelines for reopening restaurants. Those guidelines called for six feet of distance between restaurant tables, initially outside.