Much of Massachusetts began Phase 3, Step 2 of the state's reopening plan Monday, with Gov. Charlie Baker confident it is safe to relax some restrictions in "low-risk" communities despite an overall uptick in coronavirus cases in the state.
Municipalities are eligible to move on to Step 2 if they have not been marked as red on the three most recent versions of the state's coronavirus risk assessment map. The community spread maps are released by the state weekly. Communities marked as red are considered being at a higher risk level.
On Sunday, state public health officials reported 626 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, as total cases surged past 132,000. Officials also reported three new deaths, pushing the death toll in Massachusetts to 9,295.
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Baker announced Tuesday the state would make the step forward, the first in its re-opening plan since early July, when Phase 3 began.
Here's what we know so far about the next step in the state's reopening plan:
Only Lower-Risk Communities Can Reopen
Communities color coded as gray, green and yellow can move forward.
Once a community has moved to Step 2, it will take three straight weeks in the red to be considered a higher risk community, officials have said.
Last week's coronavirus risk map put Boston, Worcester and Springfield among the 23 high-risk cities and towns in Massachusetts.
Indoor, Outdoor Recreation Headline Businesses Eligible to Reopen
Businesses like laser tag, roller rinks and trampoline parks are among those finally eligible to open their doors to customers once again under Step 2 of Phase 3. They "have not led to significant transmission in other states," Baker said when announcing the move.
In addition, retail stores can open fitting rooms again. Gyms, museums and libraries can open at up to 50% capacity.
Indoor and outdoor performance venues will be allowed to open up to 50% capacity up to 250 people under Phase 3, Step 2. However, Baker said that rule doesn't apply to stadiums, arenas and other large performance venues, such as Gillette Stadium or the TD Garden.
Gatherings Remain Capped
Indoor gatherings remain capped at 25 people in Massachusetts under the new step, while outdoor gatherings in private homes stay at 50 people.
For Phase 3, Step 2, communities, there are changes to gathering sizes for outdoor gatherings in public and at event venues: they'll be allowed to have up to 100 people, while that limit will be 50 people for communities that stay in Step 1.
Some Health Experts Leery of Reopening
Dr. Paul Sax, the clinical director of the infectious disease unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said last week that it is clear the state's coronavirus numbers are trending in the wrong direction.
"As much as we'd like to get back to a pre-COVID-19 life, I think, from a safety perspective, it is best to hold off," Sax said.
Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in a series of tweets that he is concerned about the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.
Faust urged Baker to halt indoor dining immediately, saying that if it doesn't happen, cases could skyrocket and a full shutdown may be necessary.