By SCOTT JACKSON
State inspectors visited 1,200 restaurants during the first week of September and a vast majority of those establishments were in compliance with new rules put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday said the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission determined 900 of the 1,200 sites inspected were in compliance with the new rules. The remaining 300 received fines or warnings.
“We’re pleased that a vast majority of our restaurants and their customers are enjoying their experience, outdoor and indoor dining, safely to prevent the spread of COVID,” Baker said at his State House press conference.
“We really appreciate the ABCC’s ongoing work to ensure that establishments are operating based on the guidelines and advisories that have been issued by the commonwealth and by many local communities.”
Among other things, the guidelines require that masks or face coverings be worn indoors or outdoors at restaurants, though customers can remove them while seated. Tables must also be spaced six feet apart and parties are limited to six or fewer people. Restaurants are also not allowed to serve alcohol to patrons unless they purchase food.
When asked about potentially relaxing rules for restaurants, Baker said his focus for the time being is on re-opening schools and the return of college students to campus.
“One of the things we talked about is trying to get through the school re-opening and the college return. These are both really big and really important deals here in Massachusetts,” he said. “I really think for the next couple of weeks our focus ought to be there and we will talk about other stuff when we get past that.”
Baker also said that he is “as frustrated as anybody” that certain elements of the Bay State’s economy remain closed. He added, however, that bars and nightclubs, which remain shuttered in Massachusetts, contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in southern and midwestern states.
“It was pretty clear they played a significant role in significant outbreaks in new cases in many states where they were permitted to open,” Baker said.
The governor said he does not want to roll back the re-opening plan as some other states have done.
“One of the things we didn’t want to ever have to do, which several states have had to do, is go back – open people up and tell people they have to close again,” Baker stated. “We haven’t done that, and I think that is because of the guidance and the advisories and the careful way the re-opening advisory group…went about their work.”
Baker also touted Massachusetts’ testing capacity during his press conference. An average of 42,000 tests were conducted each day during the first week in September, up from 33,000 per day the week before. Part of the increase is because of testing for college students and staff returning to campus.
The governor said the increase in testing capabilities would help prepare the state for a second wave of the pandemic should it strike in the fall or winter. The state also continues to stockpile personal protective equipment.
“No one really does know exactly what is going to happen here. Part of it depends upon how well we do with masks and distancing and all the other things we talk about,” Baker responded when asked about a potential second wave.
“The places where we absolutely want to make sure we are teed up are around testing, where we continue to expand capacity and we continue to make sure as much of our testing as possible can be processed locally so that we can enhance and ensure the turnaround times, even as our volumes go up, continue to be within 24 hours.
“And, we continue to buy PPE. We continue to buy masks, we continue to buy gloves and gowns and all the stuff that last spring people were struggling to find. We will continue to do that all the way through.”
Baker later added that many residents have been following the new rules for masks and social distancing, which has led to a decrease in communicable diseases such as ear infections, strep throat and other respiratory illnesses.