Mass. to Lift Stay-at-Home Advisory, Early Business Closure Order Next Week: Baker

Baker also announced all residents eligible in Phase 1 of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan can now make appointments

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said he will next week lift a stay-at-home advisory and an order requiring all businesses close by 9:30 p.m. as health officials see encouraging trends in the state's COVID-19 data.

The orders will be lifted Monday at 5 a.m., Baker said, adding the moves were possible because COVID-19 hospitalizations and the state's average positive test rate were "trending in a better direction" after spiking after the holiday season.

All home health care workers and health care workers not working with COVID patients are now eligible for vaccinations.

"Vaccines are reaching residents, positive case rates and hospitalizations have stabilized; those trends are moving in the right direction," Baker said. "As a result, we believe it's OK and it's time to start a gradual easing of some of the restrictions we put in place in the fall."

The governor said hospitalizations had decreased by 10 percent since peaking in early January, and the average positive test rate had fallen by 33 percent during the same time period -- metrics that give the administration confidence to loosen restrictions.

While restaurants, health clubs, casinos, movie theaters, and other businesses will be able to stay open later than 9:30 p.m. next week, they will still not be allowed to put fill their places of business to greater than 25 percent capacity. Baker announced that restriction will remain in place for at least another two weeks more.

The stay-at-home advisory, put in place in November, asked residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 p.m. and, during the day, avoid going out except to perform essential activities such as shopping.

The announcements do not impact guidance given to schools, Baker said.

The moves were part of a spate of COVID-19-related measures announced Thursday.

Baker earlier said the state was making COVID-19 vaccinations available to more health care workers as part of Phase 1 of its vaccination plan.

The newly eligible health care workers include dentists, medical and nursing students, physical therapists, hospital interpreters, behavioral health clinicians, blood donation workers, podiatrists, substance use disorder treatment program staff, asthma and allergy specialists, school nurses, clergy members who work with patients, acupuncturists and more, according to a state website that provides more details on each phase of the vaccine plan.

The move means all residents who are eligible in Phase 1 -- which also includes COVID-facing health care workers, people in long-term care facilities and rest homes and first responders -- can now make appointments for shots. Those who are eligible can get more information about appointments here.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft detailed how at Gillette Stadium will play a major role in administering coronavirus vaccinations.

Speaking to reporters after touring a mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium, Baker reiterated Phase 1 "represents our commitment to preserving our health care capacity and protecting some of the most vulnerable residents in the commonwealth and making sure we have an equitable distribution process."

The tour of Gillette came after it opened this week a site where eligible residents can receive COVID-19 vaccine shots. Fenway Park in Boston is expected to become a vaccination site on Feb. 1.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said opening up the stadium was part of the organization's effort to bring the community together during trying times.

"We have celebrated some great moments here over the past 19 years, but maybe none as important as what we are doing here today, right now," Kraft said.

Meanwhile, Baker said the state's ability to announce vaccination eligibility for more residents depended on when his administration hears from federal authorities about its timeline to accelerate vaccine shipments to states.

Bake said it would take some days for the Biden administration to assess the nation's vaccine distribution system before it was able to give states a better indication of when shipments would be accelerated.

"The fact that his has been an issue that (President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris) and the people on their team have talked about almost every day for the past month is a pretty solid indicator that it is going to be a very high priority for them," Baker said.

"That is critically important for us, when we think about how we should be anticipating what happens next."

The site plans to begin with 300 vaccinations a day and build up to 5,000 vaccinations a day as more people become eligible.

The governor added that when more vaccines are approved by federal health authorities, the additional number of doses being manufactured would have a major impact on states' abilities to administer doses.

The use of the stadiums is part of the administration's efforts to ramp up the number of vaccination sites across the state.

The Baker administration announced Tuesday that the state is launching partnerships with CVS Health and Walgreens to deliver 10,000 vaccine doses to store locations across the state.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, 51, an infectious-diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, was sworn in Wednesday. She takes the helm at a time when the virus's U.S. death toll has eclipsed 400,000 and continues to accelerate.

Residents in Phase 1 of the state's vaccination plan can now get their first dose at one of 15 locations: Greenfield, Fall River, Salem, South Yarmouth, Pittsfield, Lee, Holden, Gardner, Hyannis, Mashpee, Somerset, Fairhaven, Haverhill, Saugus or Danvers. Those eligible for a vaccine must make an appointment by signing up here.

The state will also partner will grocery chains Wegmans, Big Y, Price Chopper, Stop & Shop and Hannaford to provide approximately 40 vaccination sites the week of 1/25, the Baker administration said. The exact details of those locations have not yet been provided.

The Baker administration late last year released the state's vaccination plan, under which residents are eligible to receive vaccination shots in phase with priority given to first responders, health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Health officials say that as of Monday 746,250 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been allocated to Massachusetts and 337,333 doses have been administered.

Baker also announced that several hundred more grants were awarded to small businesses across the state as part of its COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program.

He said 638 more grants had awarded to businesses, totaling another 73.5 million dollars, as part of the program, which aims to help small business impacted by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a second person tested positive Tuesday in Massachusetts with the more contagious variant of COVID-19 first detected in the United Kingdom, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said.

Bharel said the case of the B.1.1.7 variant was discovered by the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, but she did not offer further details.

The first case of the new strain of the coronavirus was detected over the weekend in a female resident of Boston in her 20s who had visited the United Kingdom. Bharel disclosed the new case at Wednesday's meeting of the Public Health Council.

NBC10 Boston and State House News Service
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