Phased Economic Reopening Begins Today, But Personal Precautions Still Critical

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19

COVID-19

Gov. Charlie Baker today announced the start of a careful process of reopening shuttered businesses and restarting public activities, with the goal of reaching a “new normal” state by the end of July. But for that schedule to hold, COVID-19 cases need to continue declining, which means continuing social distancing, hand washing, face covering and other personal precautions.

Essential businesses that are already open have until May 25 to comply with new safety standards. But as of today, May 18, manufacturing and construction businesses can resume operations provided that they comply with the requirements posted at www.mass.gov/reopening. Churches can also reopen under special guidelines, though they are encouraged to hold services outdoors. Retailers providing curbside pick-up or remote order fulfillment will also be allowed to operate.  Gatherings of 10 people or more are still prohibited. On May 25, offices, hair salons and certain other businesses can resume service under the new rules, as can beaches, parks, drive-in theaters, fishing, boating, and most other outdoor activities.

“This effort will hinge fundamentally on personal responsibility,” Baker said Monday. If people don’t continue to wear masks when they cannot stay six feet away from others, if they do not frequently wash their hands and frequently-touched surfaces, and if they do not stay home when feeling ill, the reopening plan will stall. But if all goes well, each of the four phases of recovery will last three weeks. By that schedule, Phase 2 would begin on June 8.

At that time, retailers, restaurants and lodging establishments would be allowed to open provided they comply with the new requirements posted by the state. There would be an expansion of health care services and outdoor activities, and state officials would revisit the prohibition of gatherings of 10 or more people.

In Phase 3, which begins no earlier than June 29, bars, museums, fitness clubs and all other business activities except for nightclubs and large venues would resume operations, and youth sports with games and tournaments would be allowed to resume with limited crowd sizes. The final phase, happening no earlier than July 20, would represent the full resumption of all activities under new rules.

Enforcement of the new rules would be done jointly by local health boards and state officials. When alerted to problems by employees or customers of a business, officials will investigate and help them correct the problems so they can be open safely. Businesses that repeatedly decline to follow the rules are subject to fines.

The existing stay-at-home advisory has been modified slightly, but people are still encouraged to remain at home as much as possible, and to work from home whenever possible. Vulnerable populations are particularly encouraged to stay home.

The decision to advance from one phase to the next will be based on public health data, the governor stressed.

“If we don’t keep up the fight and don’t do the things that we all know we have to do, and know we can do, we run the risk of creating a second spike in the fall,” Baker said.

Read more about the regulations, and hear local reaction, in this week’s Cape Cod Chronicle.