Bay State Businesses Begin Re-Opening

By SCOTT JACKSON

State officials on Monday detailed plans to begin re-opening Massachusetts businesses that have been closed since March amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some industries able to re-open effective immediately and more set to resume next week.

Gov. Charlie Baker, speaking at the State House, said residents’ efforts to slow the spread of the virus have made the re-opening the state’s economy possible.

“We have been doing our jobs to fight back and, as a result, positive case rates are moving in the right direction and hospitalizations are down,” the governor said.

The plan for re-opening was developed by an advisory board Baker assembled that included representatives from various industries, local elected officials, and public health experts. As part of the plan, the state will provide guidance for each industry ahead of its re-opening to protect customers and employees.

“This is something no one has ever done before – shutter and then re-open everything from a beach front to a factory floor with standards in place to slow the spread of a highly contagious virus,” Baker said.

“This guidance asks people to change behaviors. It changes the way some of our favorite places look and feel. This is not permanent – at some point there will be treatments and ultimately a vaccine – but for the foreseeable future, everyone needs to continue to do the right things to bring the fight to the virus so we can continue to move forward.”

Businesses are also required to create a COVID-19 control plan before being allowed to re-open; those plans do not need to be submitted to the state but must be kept on site. Essential businesses that have remained open through the outbreak have until May 25 to complete their plan.

Construction sites and manufacturing facilities were allowed to open effective Monday. Also allowed to re-open Monday were places of worship, with guidelines in place that promote social distancing and encourage services to be held outdoors.

Additional businesses will be allowed to re-open May 25, including some personal services such as barbershops, hair salons, pet groomers and car washes. Offices will also be able to re-open next week at 25 percent capacity, except in Boston, and labs can also re-open. Retailers, including adult-use marijuana establishments, will be able to re-open with remote fulfilment and curbside pickup.

Many outdoor spaces can open starting May 25 as well including beaches; parks; drive-in movie theaters; select athletic fields; many outdoor adventure activities; most fishing, hunting and boating; and outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves and public installations.

Additional sectors could re-open on June 1, including office space in Boston.

Baker had previously said the state’s businesses would re-open on a four-phased basis. Baker on Monday said each phase would last at three weeks, depending on the latest data concerning the virus.

“Each phase will last at least three weeks but may last longer if the public health data doesn’t support moving forward,” Baker said.

Those businesses allowed to re-open through June 1 are all included in phase one.

Businesses in the second phase include indoor retail spaces, hotels, and other personal services such as nail salons, day spas, massage therapy, tattoo parlors and electrolysis studios. Restaurants – which have been limited to take-out and delivery only – will likewise be able to re-open with limited capacity.

Also included in the second phase are additional outdoor recreation, such as miniature golf, go karts and batting cages. Some outdoor performances will be allowed starting in phase two, recreational day camps will be allowed to open, and youth sports can start some activities.

The third phase includes bars – defined as establishments that serve alcohol without offering food – gyms and fitness studios, movie theaters, museums and some performance venues such as concert halls and theaters. Residential summer camps could open in phase three, as could indoor recreation like batting cages and go karts. Sightseeing – bus tours, duck tours, harbor cruises and whale watching – and tours are included in phase three as well. Amusement parks could re-open in phase three or four.

Larger venues, including arenas, stadiums, race tracks and night clubs, would re-open in the fourth phase. The government’s guidelines also say it is to be determined when sports teams could be allowed to play without fans in attendance.

The re-opening of historical sites is to be determined, according to the state, but will not happen in the first phase; state officials are drawing up a comprehensive tourism plan.

The state’s restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remains in place as does a revised stay-at-home advisory, which is now known as a safer-at-home advisory. The new advisory instructs everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity. It also advises those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home with the exception of trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary.

“It is important for everyone to remember it is safer at home,” Baker said.

The governor’s order requiring residents to wear a mask or face covering inside businesses or outdoors if social distancing is not possible remains in effect. The governor said residents should continue to take steps to stop the spread of the virus, including frequent handwashing, maintaining six feet of separation between individuals, and staying home when sick.

“Everyone has a responsibility to wash your hands, distance yourself from others and be vigilant about symptoms. You can stay home, and you should stay home if you feel sick. How well everyone does these things will determine how long until we move into later phases,” Baker said.

“Collectively we have flattened the curve and avoided a spike in cases that would have broken our health care system, but 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 a creating a second spike in the fall.”

The information released by the state Monday did not include a timeline for re-opening childcare facilities. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said employees who are headed back to work in phase one could use the state’s emergency daycare system if necessary; the system has room for up to 10,000 children and has been running at 35 percent capacity.

“The system has capacity to serve more families, to provide care options, as more workers head back to work and sectors become active again,” Polito said.

State agencies are developing guidelines for re-opening childcare facilities, she added, and those guidelines will be reviewed by Boston Children’s Hospital.

Polito said the MBTA would continue running on a limited schedule during phase one of the re-opening in order to maximize employee and rider safety. The T will ramp up to a modified version of full service by phase three. Commuters will still be required to wear a mask or face covering while riding the MBTA.

Businesses are encouraged to stagger employees’ schedules and continue allowing remote work to reduce demand on the public transit system.

“Employers are encouraged to stagger schedules and implement work-from-home policies to reduce demand during rush hours,” Polito said.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance on Monday said the state’s re-opening plan would benefit larger businesses and could force small businesses to close.

“Today, if you’re a billion-dollar business or a national retail chain, all is well. If you are a Massachusetts small business, you could be facing a continued shut down well into late July,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the group.

“The most vulnerable population in the governor’s executive order are these businesses that will be continually forced into the red for over the next 100 days. Many of our favorite retail stores, lodging facilities, restaurants, bars, gyms, and museums will simply go out of business.

“The governor’s re-opening plan doesn’t reflect the sense of urgency currently pervading the small business community. For businesses, every day is essential. They have waited 56 days to open, some will have to wait another 70 under the Governor’s plan. How can any small businesses outlined in phase three ever be expected to stay in business after nearly 130 days shut down?”

“Big national chains have been picked as winners since day one. Under the governor’s plan, many of our small businesses are unfortunately picked as losers.”

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