In Coronavirus Fight, State OKs Crackdown On Private Parties

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19

Baker Freezes Reopening Plan

Citing a surge in parties like the one in Chatham where at least 13 people may have contracted COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker Friday announced a freeze on the state’s economic reopening plan, new restrictions on public gatherings, and new enforcement of those rules at parties – even ones on private property.

“There have been many reports of pool parties, birthday parties, holiday parties, Fourth of July parties, all of which have been documented in great detail by our contact tracing teams,” Baker said. The parties have been shown to contribute to community spread of COVID-19 and to new clusters of the disease. “These parties are too big, too crowded, and people are simply not being responsible about face coverings, social distancing or any of the major metrics that we’ve put in place” to manage the spread of the illness, the governor said.

Effective Tuesday, Aug. 11, the number of people allowed to gather together outdoors will be reduced from 100 to 50. Indoor gatherings remain capped at 25 people. People must maintain six feet of distance between one another and must wear face coverings.

In key communities where COVID-19 cases are rising quickly, the state will deploy a “COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team” that includes members of various state agencies to coordinate better enforcement and public education. The goal, he said, is to increase awareness of the problem in those communities “and help people change their behavior.” The vast majority of people in Massachusetts are following the rules, he said.

“We cannot let the actions of some force all of us to move backwards,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said.

In a key development, state and local police will now have the authority to enforce the public health rules on private property, where they previously lacked jurisdiction. Local health officials have made it clear that this has been a clear limitation in responding to parties in Chatham and other area towns.

Baker announced that the economic reopening plan would be halted at its current stage, Step 2 of Phase 3, and that it would remain at this level indefinitely. He also made it clear that there would be increased enforcement of “bars masquerading as restaurants” who serve pretzels or potato chips in order to meet the standards that allowed them to reopen under the plan. Representatives of the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission will be represented on the enforcement team, and will be able to revoke licenses or issue hefty fines to violators.

Read more in the next edition of The Chronicle.