Governor Baker has announced a four-phase reopening plan for the Commonwealth (numerous links below). It has become clear over the last several weeks that the best way to approach the reopening of society is with great caution. In the Commonwealth, we have made notable strides in flattening the curve and preventing our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. And in order to maintain that forward progress, we cannot rush a transition back to a new normal. Along with the plan, the Department of Public Health has issued a Safer at Home advisory which allows more travel within the Commonwealth, but advises staying home when possible.
The Baker Administration, with guidance from the Reopening Advisory Board, has decided that the progression of the phases will rely on 6 key public health metrics:
- COVID-19 positive test rate
- Number of individuals who died from COVID-19
- Number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals
- Healthcare system readiness
- Testing capacity
- Contact tracing abilities
The first phase will involve opening limited industries with significant restrictions. The second phase will bring the reopening of more industries and businesses with capacity limits and restrictions. The third phase will be slightly less restrictive but will still involve special guidance from the governor regarding operations. The fourth and final phase, also called the “new normal,” will only be possible once there is a therapy or vaccine available to cure cases of COVID-19. Each phase is scheduled to last approximately three weeks, however the plan allows for reversion back to prior phases if public health metrics fall below the acceptable threshold.
According to the details of Phase One, construction and manufacturing businesses and places of worship were authorized to open yesterday, May 18th, if they follow specific health and safety standards. Office spaces, laboratories, hair salons, barbershops, car washes, and pet grooming businesses are permitted to reopen on Monday, May 25th, and must also adhere to specific health and safety standards. Offices must operate at 25% or lower capacity. This phase of reopenings excludes businesses in Boston which will not be reopening until June 1st. Businesses must follow both general and sector-specific health and safety standards. The mandatory safety protocols for all businesses include:
- Social distancing
- Hygiene protocols
- Staffing and operations
- Cleaning and disinfecting
Business owners can go here to find information about required hygiene or protective supplies and can find vendors for such products.
You can find a detailed report of the Governor’s plan here. Each “sector” of business must follow sector-specific protocols when reopening. Each sector can refer to a designated circular and checklist. Business owners may go to the state’s reopening website to find the guidance and documents they need, where each sector has its own guidance and the links can be found on this main page. Businesses are required to self-certify that they have met the standards required to reopen and stay open. Each sector is supplied with a checklist to help business owners ensure they are compliant. In addition to sector-specific protocols, businesses must also follow the general guidance provided by the administration. This information can be found on the main page of the reopening website. You can see a full list of when every business and sector of the economy will open here. It is important to note that employers who are permitted to reopen as part of Phase One cannot bring back employees until they are fully compliant with the guidance provided by the administration.
As you can tell, the protocols to reopen are reasonably rigorous. This plan is a crucial component to ensuring the safety of Massachusetts residents as we gradually return to normal. The level of compliance with the plan and observation of the guidelines put in place will dictate how successful we are with reopening our state.
Candidly, there are some gaps in the reopening plan, including how it will be enforced. There is also a major gap on the issue of childcare. What is a parent with a school-age child supposed to do if they are expected to retune to work soon? Childcare centers in the state are closed until June 29th, while emergency childcare centers have space for more children, but they do not have equal availability across the state. In addition, for business owners, the process that determined which sectors are designated for the various phases has been opaque and some of the places that will be permitted to open as soon as next week are businesses that may have difficulty fully complying with necessary standards. I have communicated my concerns to the Baker Administration as have some of my colleagues and we must carefully follow all developments.