| Payton North
BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker announced on May 18 a phased approach to reopening the economy and the state of Massachusetts.
Baker first paid homage to the front line and essential workers, as well as those who have lost their lives over the course of the past few months due to COVID-19. He also noted that “everyone is suffering under the fear of the unknown” amid the pandemic, and stated that many have had to hold off on major events in their lives – graduations, weddings and more – because of it.
He praised the retired medical professionals who came back to work to help fight the virus, and thanked parents for not only continuing to work from home but to help aid in educating their children as well.
“As we start to return to our new normal, we are once again asking people to rise to the occasion as we continue to fight this virus,” Baker said during the press conference. He continued to explain that though the steps to reopening the state are beginning, business owners, employees and the everyday citizen must still collectively work to fight it.
“Today we lay out a road map to reopen Massachusetts while we continue to fight COVID-19,” Baker said, adding that the two processes will be “inseparable” until there is a medical breakthrough with a treatment or vaccine. “We can’t move forward until we continue to fight every day.”
Baker explained that the reopening of the state will be broken down into four phases, with each phase lasting three weeks, with the potential for an extension to the phases if needed. The movement from phase to phase is dependent on testing and case data.
“COVID-19 has and will continue to take a toll here in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “It remains up to all of us as individuals to continue to fight back against the virus, because that is the way we move forward through these phases.”
“As everyone knows, we are not helpless in this fight, we all have roles to play,” Baker said adding that residents of Massachusetts have “time and time again proven that you can play [the role].” He noted that the state is continuing to ask residents to do four things: cover their noses and mouths when they cannot properly socially distance, wash their hands and wash surfaces often, keep six feet between one another whenever possible, and stay vigilant for symptoms and stay home if feeling sick.
“Sticking with these critical tasks is everyone's responsibility, how well we do them will dictate how well we open,” Baker said.
While more detailed information can be found at mass.gov/reopening, generally, the four phases are explained in the following.
Phase one is titled “start,” where limited industries resume operations with severe restrictions. In phase two, “cautious,” additional industries resume operations with restrictions and capacity limitations. Phase three, “vigilant,” allows additional industries to resume operations with guidance. Finally, phase four, “new normal,” involves the development of vaccines and/or treatments enabling resumption of “new normal.”
The website overview explains that the goal of the phased reopening plan is to “methodically allow businesses, services, and activities to resume, while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 that could overwhelm our healthcare system and erase the progress we’ve made so far.”
As previously explained, each phase will last a minimum of three weeks with the possibility of lasting longer. “If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire Commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase,” mass.gov/reopening reads.
“The Baker-Polito Administration’s data-driven approach to reopening the economy used a framework that considered the public health risk and the economic benefit of reopening each of the closed sectors of our economy. In addition to this framework, the Baker–Polito Administration looked to what other states are doing, including our immediate neighbors and those that were similarly impacted by COVID-19,” the website explains regarding the frameworks for each reopening phase.
At the conference, Baker stated that effective May 18, manufacturing facilities and construction sites were permitted to open. From there, Baker said more businesses would be permitted on May 25, and others on June 1, all under phase one of the four-phase plan. Baker noted that first-phase businesses have “limited face to face and customer interactions.” He explained that also effective May 18, places of worship would be allowed to open if they follow guidelines.
On May 25, Baker said, office space can reopen to 25 percent of its capacity, with the exception of offices in Boston. Also on May 25, retail locations can offer curbside service, and Baker noted, some barber shops and hair salons can open if they follow industry-specific guidelines.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito later explained that within phase two, there is the potential for safe reopenings of campgrounds, youth sports, arts and entertainment, gyms and other businesses. She also noted that summer camps “serve an important purpose,” and that there is a partnership with The Department of Public Health (DPH) to work to enable 1,400 camps to potentially safely reopen, pending public health data.
“The people of Massachusetts are strong, we are resilient, we’ve come through tough times before and we will come through tough times again,” Polito said.
The guidelines that Baker continued to mention asks people to “change behaviors,” and “changes the way some of our favorite places look and feel,” he said. He noted that “this isn’t permanent” but “for the foreseeable future everyone needs to continue to do the right things,” to fight the virus so that the state can move forward.
DPH announced a new “safer at home advisory,” which instructs Massachusetts residents to continue to stay at home unless they are going to a newly open place. Baker then added that individuals over the age of 65 should “stay home except for absolutely necessary trips like healthcare and groceries.” Residents will still be required to wear a face covering if they cannot maintain six feet of distance.
“How well everyone does these things will determine how well we move into later phases,” Baker said. “We can’t afford to take one step forward only to take two steps back.”
Polito announced that the government is working to implement safety standards, and that businesses that fit within the guidelines will have until May 25 to comply with mandatory safety standards. On the mass.gov/reopening website, there is a section of general business guidance which provides information to help businesses meet the self-certification requirements to reopen.
Within the guidance, there is a list of mandatory safety standards for workplaces, a COVID-19 control plan template; a template that satisfies the written control plan requirement for self-certification. There is also a compliance attestation poster, which is a poster for businesses to print out, sign and post within their business that is visible to workers and visitors. Finally, there is an employer and worker posters section that includes posters businesses can print and display within the business to describe rules for social distancing, hygiene protocols, and cleaning and disinfecting.
The website also contains information on when specific businesses can reopen during what time period, though the dates of the opening for businesses who are involved in later phases are to be determined.
“As we continue to move forward we will continue to post the guidance for later phases online in advance so businesses can prepare and plan for when that time comes,” Polito said.
Polito noted that a new restaurant, accommodations and tourism work group has been formed, and that there will be continuing discussions with the group to help determine industry-specific protocol.
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, also co-chair of the Reopening Advisory Board, spoke to the guidelines during the press conference – noting that “if businesses are able,” he “strongly encourages to have employees continue to work from home,” and that “reducing the number of employees in the workplace reduces transmission.”
Kennealy then stated that if the workplace does require employees to go back to the office, they encourage the workplaces to stagger shifts, and to have employees who are over the age of 65 continue to work from home.
Industry-specific information can be found at mass.gov/reopening.
When it comes to compliance of these guidelines, Polito explained that they “don’t want to have to fine [businesses].” She noted that they have created specific protocols and best practices, noting that though it may be challenging for a workplace to accommodate for these changes, the Reopening Advisory Board attempted to make it an easier task to accomplish by laying out best practices, guidances, a “how-to” document, a template for safety plans and components, a checklist, and posters.
She added that compliance “is a responsibility that employers have.”
When asked who would keep businesses accountable, she said that perhaps it would be an employee who informs the local health department that their employer isn’t keeping them safe, or that a customer would notice unsatisfactory conditions. Enforcement then would come from the local board of health. “If there are multiple check ins with this workplace and they still haven't complied, that’s where a fine and disobedience would come into play,” Polito said.