Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday announced the phased reopening plan for Massachusetts, and urged residents to continue being vigilant to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The plan has been the task of the governor’s Reopening Advisory Board for the past several weeks, where it has met with leaders from many sectors and industries across the Commonwealth.
“Our collective success depends on everyone,” Baker said. “We cannot move forward until we commit to slowing the spread.”
Before getting into specifics of the plan, Baker said that it will progress through four phases, each lasting at least three weeks but could last longer “if the public health data doesn’t support moving forward.”
He also said that the plan lays out what businesses and individuals must do in order to be able to reopen during each phase. “The advisory board made every effort to be as clear and direct as possible,” Baker said. “This is something no one’s ever done before.”
In Phase One, called “start,” which began on May 18, places of worship were allowed to open “with guidelines,” and “outdoor services are encouraged.” Additionally on May 18, essential businesses, manufacturing, and construction were allowed to operate.
Beginning on May 25, lab space, office space (except in Boston), limited personal services—hair salons, pet grooming, and car washes—and retail with remote fulfillment and curbside pickup are allowed to open. On June 1, office space can open again in Boston.
Last week, Baker announced a list of employers who have committed to continuing their work from home policies “for the foreseeable future,” including Wayfair, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Liberty Mutual, and several others. He encouraged employers to continue work from home policies where it’s possible to reduce the number of people coming into contact with each other.
On May 18, hospitals and community health centers were also permitted “upon attestation” to “provide high priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients and conditions,” and on May 25, additional health care providers will be permitted to do the same.
On May 25, beaches, parks, drive-in theaters, some athletic fields and courts, many outdoor adventure activities, most fishing, hunting, and boating, and outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves, and public installations will be permitted to open with specific guidelines.
Baker said that people are still to cover their noses and mouths when six feet of distance cannot be maintained, wash their hands and surfaces often, continue to social distance, and stay home if sick.
“Sticking with these critical tasks is everyone’s responsibility,” Baker said. “State and local governments will continue to step up testing capabilities alongside the community tracing program. Positive case rates are moving in the right direction,” he added.
Baker said that the steps taken in the first phase are for businesses that have “limited face-to-face and customer interactions.” He said that people are going to have to change their behaviors and things will not be the same as they were before the virus.
“At some point there will be treatments and a vaccine,” he said, but “for the foreseeable future, everyone needs to continue to do the same thing.”
This goes hand-in-hand with the Baker-Polito administration’s new “Safer At Home” advisory, which advises people to stay at home “unless going to a newly opened facility or activity,” he said. Those over the age of 65 and who are at high-risk for the virus should remain at home.
“The virus will be with us throughout the reopening process,” Baker said. “How well everyone does these things will determine how well we move into later phases.”
He also said that “we’d all prefer to believe that the virus is less serious now and that it’s behind us,” but “if we don’t keep up the fight and do things we know we have to do and can do we run the risk of creating a second spike in the fall.”
He thanked those who have been vigilant in playing their part to reduce the spread of the virus and asked that everyone continue everything they’ve been doing.
“This plan required a tremendous amount of thought, planning, and preparation by the board,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Our work would not have been possible without an extensive municipal engagement,” she added.
Polito said that things like campgrounds, community pools, playgrounds, restaurants and more, could resume in Phase Two with specific guidelines, and in Phase Three, arts and entertainment, gyms, and other activities “push us towards Phase Four of all resumption of activity,” in what will be called the “new normal.”
However, as the governor has said several times over the past few weeks, public health data will determine whether the state will enter a new phase, and he said it is possible to revert to a previous phase if necessary.
Polito said that a restaurant, accommodations, and tourism work group has met and will continue to have discussions with these industries about “industry specific protocols for meeting safety standards.”
She also said that the business community will continue to be supported “as they implement the mandatory workplace safety standards” that the administration announced last week. She added that businesses opening up in Phase One will be required to comply with these standards before they are allowed to open.
“The administration will require businesses to self-certify,” Polito said, adding that they must develop a COVID-19 control plan and implement the safety standards.
The state has also created sector-specific guidance that “aim to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions in each industry.” Materials for these guidelines and safety standards are available on the Reopening Massachusetts section of the mass.gov website.
CHILDCARE AND TRANSPORTATION
Polito also said that “key components” of beginning to reopen the state include childcare and public transportation.
In March, the administration created an emergency childcare system for children of essential workers and others on the frontlines of fighting the virus.
She said that the emergency childcare system already in place will be used to meet the needs of “people with no alternative for care” as people slowly return to work in Phase One. She also encouraged families to find alternatives to group care, and that currently, only 25 percent of emergency childcare is occupied. “The system we established has capacity for 10,000 children statewide,” Polito said.
“Summer camps serve an important purpose,” Polito added, saying that additional health and safety standards are being reviewed in preparation for the opening of summer camps. She said that these health guidelines could be implemented in over 1400 camps across Massachusetts, and “pending public health data,” camps could open in Phase Two “with limitations and standards in line with CDC guidance.”
On the transportation front, “the MBTA has been and will continue to implement measures to prevent the spread,” Polito said. “We cannot significantly reduce transmission” without the support of everyone in the state.
She said that riders of the MBTA are required to wear face coverings, and employers should implement work from home practices and stagger the workday to “reduce demand on rush hours.”
Polito said that in Phase One, the MBTA will “support the transit needs of essential workers and those returning” by continuing with limited service. By Phase Three, there will be a modified version of full service, and the MBTA will continue to provide protective supplies to workers and clean stations and vehicles often, as well as “actively communicate public health guidance in stations, online, and over social media,” Polito said.
“Today, as we move forward in implementing this plan for reopening, I am confident in everyone’s ability to play their role,” Polito said. “Everyone must do their part.”
She said that the “next few weeks are really important,” and by helping businesses incorporate workplace safety standards and making sure everyone follows guidelines, “the Commonwealth can stay ahead of this virus,” Polito said.
“As we balance the shared goals of activating economy and public safety…our roadmap provides us with a plan and a direction point to get started,” Polito said. “The people of Massachusetts are strong; we’re resilient, we’ve come through tough times before and we will come through this tough time again.”
To download the full Reopening MA report with details about which industries fit into which phase, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts.