What to Know
- Starting Tuesday, outdoor gatherings in Massachusetts can't have more than 50 people, Gov. Baker announced.
- The change comes after coronavirus clusters were reported stemming from house parties and other gatherings across the state.
- This week, a hotel in Gardner was found to have hosted two weddings above the 100-person limit, despite warnings.
As Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that outdoor gatherings will soon be capped at 50 people, down from 100 people, he cited a series of parties that have recently made headlines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The most recent to make the news is a pair of weddings at the Colonial Hotel in Gardner that authorities said Thursday went far over capacity. One allegedly brought together 240 guests and 70 employees.
Baker cited that gathering and others as he announced that the next step of Massachusetts' reopening plan is being postponed indefinitely. He also said local and state police would be empowered to enforce gathering size with fines.
"These parties are too big, too crowded, and people are simply not being responsible about face coverings, social distancing or any of the major metrics that we've put in place to help people manage the spread of this virus," Baker said.
The 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings goes into effect on Tuesday. They apply to gatherings on public and private property, and face coverings will be required wherever more than 10 people who don't live together will be gathered.
The Colonial Hotel weddings took place this weekend, but hotel management had already been warned about the events by officials in Gardner who'd received tips that they would be too large.
If any violations are proven, each will come with a $300 fine. Baker said Friday he guessed they would add up to "significantly into the thousands of dollars."
A statement from the hotel sent Friday morning said it has "endeavored to comply" with coronavirus rules and said there have been misconceptions and inaccuracies in the reporting about what's gone on there, though what those inaccuracies wasn't been explained.
"We look forward to working with local and state officials to address some misconceptions about our recent operations and clear up some inaccuracies that have been reported," the hotel's statement said.
It's not yet clear and probably too early to know if the weddings are connected to coronavirus clusters, but other events around Massachusetts have been. Here are some:
- A house party in Chatham, where attendees reportedly did not wear masks, that's been tied to at least 13 coronavirus cases.
- At least 10 lifeguards in Falmouth tested positive for COVID-19 after a party; one was reportedly told by a supervisor not to tell anyone that they'd tested positive.
- A “prom-like” house party in Cohasset that prompted officials to cancel the local high school's graduation for fear of the virus spreading.
"We've seen instanced off-Cape, a few instances on-Cape. The governor changing the numbers -- not surprising," said Sean O’Brien, director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
He added he thinks that police enforcement will be driven by complaints, rather than officers looking to bust gatherings on their own.
Elaborating on a point he's made ever since the start of the pandemic, Baker on Friday explained what's so important about keeping socially distant, even at parties outside.
"When you chase a lot of the contact tracing, the biggest issue we have is people who are familiar with people being familiar with them in big groups, and that translating into spread," he said.
He noted that people who get sick can take three to seven days to show their symptoms, and some people can be infectious without ever showing symptoms.
Dozens of people gathered in someone's backyard for a party can involve, Baker said, "nobody wearing a face mask, nobody socially distancing, one or two people there who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, hugs, hand shakes, high-fives, dancing, who knows, right? A whole bunch of people will walk away from there little ticking clocks that are going to go off at some point."
They may pass the virus to family members, "and then we're off," Baker said. "And that has been far more what's showed up in a lot of data."