By Lauren Bennett
The Baker administration on Tuesday announced that all Massachusetts cities and towns will roll back to Step Three, Phase One of the state’s reopening plan, effective Sunday, December 13.
Following increases in hospitalizations and cases after the Thanksgiving holiday, the “sharp increase is putting a strain on our healthcare system and frontline workers,” Baker said.
As of Monday, the state had 2,463 new cases of COVID-19, and the seven day average test rate is about 5.5 percent, the governor said. There are also 1,516 people hospitalized with the virus, and 302 in the ICU.
He said that continuing at this rate is “not sustainable over time” and will continue to put the healthcare system and healthcare workers at increased risk.
Prior to and “just after” Thanksgiving, Baker said that the “data was showing progress” from the restrictions put in place about a month ago, including a stay at home advisory from 10pm to 5am, and reducing the indoor gathering limit to 10 people. But as the state encounters a second surge of the virus and cases continue to increase, more restrictions are being put in place.
He said that there is “hope” with the vaccine coming soon, but “we cannot simply wait for the vaccine to get here.”
Reverting back to Phase Three, Step One will help to “reduce the opportunities this virus can have to spread,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. Baker acknowledged that a lot has been asked of both residents and businesses over the past nine months, but everyone needs to continue to follow the guidelines in order to slow spread of the virus to ensure health and safety for all communities across the state.
“Today’s announcement is meant to tighten up guidance and to ensure that all residents are taking the proper COVID-19 prevention measures, no matter where they are,” Polito said.
Starting on Sunday, the outdoor gathering limit at event venues will be reduced from 100 people to 50, and people hosting outdoor gatherings with more than 25 people “will now be responsible for notifying their local board of health,” Polito said. Additionally, the rollback requires indoor theaters, performance venues, and “higher contact indoor recreation businesses” to close, according to the state, and theaters and performance venues that are outdoors may not operate with more than 25% capacity, and not more than 50 people.
Statewide, capacity limits for arcades, driving and flight schools, gyms, libraries, museums, retail, offices, places of worship, lodging common areas, movie theaters, and gold facilities, will be reduced from 50 percent to 40 percent, the state said. Movie theaters may not have more than 50 people per theater.
Polito said that the administration is “hoping this will be a temporary closure,” and that they will “consider reopening” indoor theaters and performance venues” when the data and hospitalizations improve.
Additionally, there are new guidelines for restaurants as well, including that masks are required at all times inside restaurants expect for when actively eating and drinking. No more than six people per table will be allowed, and all tables will have a 90 minute time limit. Also, musical performances at restaurants will no longer be allowed, and food court seating at malls will be closed.
Polito said that residents should only eat at restaurants with people in their immediate household. She added that all social clubs serving food must abide by the restaurant guidelines.
Inside gyms and fitness centers, masks are required at all times, and all office workers are also required to wear masks except when not in their own personal workspace, and the use of break rooms should be limited or eliminated. Polito also suggested that employers continue to use teleworking as much as possible to slow the spread.
“In order to beat this virus, we must all continue to do our part,” Polito said.
Baker said that these new restrictions will help to prevent infection and the spread of the virus, “especially in indoor settings,” and will also help to “reduce mobility” and the amount of time that people spend with those outside of their household. “There’s nothing more powerful than people playing their part and understanding their role,” Baker said