coronavirus recovery

Massachusetts Is Pressing Pause on Reopening. Here's What That Means

The second step in Phase 3 of reopening Massachusetts will be delayed

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Gov. Charlie Baker says that many in Massachusetts are simply not taking the virus seriously enough. That's led to the delay in reopening.

The second step in Phase 3 of reopening Massachusetts was set to come next. But for now, the governor is postponing that and imposing new restrictions on already existing guidelines.

Massachusetts is cracking down on larger gatherings, bars “masquerading” as restaurants and other events that could help spread the coronavirus as public health officials work to tamp down an uptick in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday.

Outdoor gatherings, which were capped at 100 will now be reduced to 50 people. Violators will be subject to fines. The limits apply to gatherings on both public and private property, and will require face coverings when more than 10 people from different households are together.

Baker said there have been recent reports of big parties that have helped the virus spread. He pointed to a recent wedding in Gardner that drew more than 300 people, and said some residents feel a bit too relaxed about the seriousness of this virus. The tighter restrictions in place are a response to the uptick in COVID-19 cases that Massachusetts has seen in recent weeks.

Baker said Friday that he was authorizing all state and local police to enforce the orders, and that people who host events -- even on private property -- that exceed gathering limits will be subject to fines.

"People need to understand that big groups -- especially if people don't distance and don't wear face coverings, and don't do any of the things that have been talked about and discussed time and time again -- create, in many cases, spread," Baker said. "And that's a big part of why we're enhancing enforcement for local police and State Police, and why we're lowering our gathering limit for outdoor events, and why we're also, at the same time, going to engage a multidisciplinary effort around public health and public safety with the communities that have demonstrated that they are, in fact, higher-risk here in Massachusetts."

To deal with some of the problems reported at restaurants, Baker said Friday that his office had updated guidance for restaurants to make clear that they cannot act as de facto bars, which are slated to remain closed until there is a medical breakthrough to treat or cure COVID-19.

"One of the things that's come up a number of times is that pretzels and potato chips meets the food service requirement. It clearly doesn't," he said. "What we tried to do with the amendment of the order is make absolutely clear you need to be serving food that's prepared on-site and the people who are in your venue need to order and eat food if they're going to order a drink."

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts rose nearly 25 percent between July 29 and Aug. 5, and has been steady or climbing for nearly a month as new COVID-19 infections are once again outpacing recoveries.

Hot spots include Falmouth, Chatham, Winthrop, Wrentham, and Cohasset, according to Baker.

The governor is now taking a new step to help curb the spread, including creating a new COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team.

Several businesses - including indoor theaters and concert halls, and laser tag arenas, roller skating rinks, trampoline parks and obstacle courses - will have to hold off on reopening.

This story featured reporting from the Associated Press and State House News Service.
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