Governor Baker recently announced that the entire state of Massachusetts will return to Phase 3, Step 1 beginning this Sunday, December 13th. which will include the following restrictions:
- Outdoor gatherings at event venues will be limited to no more than 50 people
- Hosts of outdoor gatherings of greater than 25 people will be required to provide advance notice of the gathering their local board of health
- Indoor theaters and performance venues and higher contact indoor recreation businesses will be required to close to the public
- Outdoor theaters and performance venues will be limited to 25% capacity, and no more than 50 people
In all communities, capacity will be reduced from 50% to 40% for the following sectors:
- Arcades/Indoor and Outdoor Recreational Businesses
- Driving and Flight Schools
- Gyms/Health Clubs
- Places of Worship
- Lodging (common areas)
- Golf facilities
- Movie Theaters (Maximum 50 people per theater)
This new capacity limit will not apply to sectors that do not currently have a percentage-based capacity limit, including restaurants, laboratories and close contact personal services.
Restaurants and Venues
The Administration also announced new guidelines for restaurants and other venues with seated dining, including:
- Patrons must wear masks at all times except when eating and drinking
- Restaurants must seat no more than six patrons per table
- Restaurants must impose a 90-minute time limit on tables
- Musical performances at restaurants will no longer be permitted
- Food court seating must be closed in malls
Customers are encouraged to dine only with members of the same household.
Offices and Gyms
The Administration announced new guidelines for workplaces and gyms, including:
- In offices, employees must wear masks at their place of work when not in their own workspace and alone
- Employers are encouraged to close or limit the use of break rooms
- Patrons must wear masks at all times in gyms
The Administration continues to encourage all employers to offer teleworking to their employees when possible.
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.
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? 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.