Next Step of Mass. Reopening Plan Starts Monday. Here's What to Know

Only communities deemed low-risk will be eligible to move into the new step of the state's reopening plan

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On Monday, much of Massachusetts will begin Step 2 of Phase 3 of the state's re-opening plan for the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes even as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to tick up in Massachusetts -- on Saturday, 600 new cases were reported, along with 17 more deaths, while the average percentage of tests coming back positive remained held at 1.1% -- up slightly from the 0.8% it held at for most of September.

Here's what we know so far about the next step in the state's reopening plan:

Only Lower-Risk Communities Can Reopen

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that the state would be making the step forward, the first in its re-opening plan since early July, when Phase 3, Step 1, began.

Lower-risk communities in Massachusetts will be able to move to Step 2 of Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan starting Monday.

However, not every community across the Bay State will be moving ahead. Only cities and towns that are "lower risk," meaning they have not been marked as red on any of the three most recent community spread maps that state releases weekly, will be eligible to begin Phase 3, Step 2.

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.

COVID-19 cases are climbing in Boston, putting the city in Massachusetts' highest risk category.

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.

With an uptick in cases, are we seeing a second surge in Massachusetts or is the worst yet to come? We talked to experts.

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.

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