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Mass. Reopening Will Start With Places of Worship, Construction, Manufacturing

Before reopening, each business or place of worship will be required to meet new coronavirus workplace safety standards and protocols, according to a Massachusetts Municipal Association email

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While many businesses anxiously await details from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker regarding the state's four-phase reopening plan, we now know it will start with places of worship, construction and manufacturing, according to an email sent to local government officials over the weekend and obtained by NBC10 Boston.

The email from the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) says the Baker administration asked the group to provide the information to municipal leaders in advance of the governor’s reopening announcement on Monday.

The construction, manufacturing and worship sectors will be allowed to resume operations as soon as Monday, according to the memo which notes that specifics of the reopening plan were still being finalized by the COVID-19 Reopening Advisory Board over the weekend.

Republican Representative Shawn Dooley, of Norfolk County, confirmed that information in an interview with NBC10 Boston and said he's calling on more flexibility from Gov. Baker.

"It seems like the government is kind of picking winners and losers," he said. "Some retail shops like Target and Walmart, the big national concerns are able to open and sell footballs and sporting equipment and books and clothing and the little mom and pop shops in the center of town can’t open at all.” 

The MMA said in its email that the Baker administration on Monday will announce additional sectors, industries, and activities that will be permitted to open at a later date in the first phase.

While many businesses anxiously await details from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker regarding the state's four-phase reopening plan, we now know it will start with places of worship, construction and manufacturing, according to an email sent to local government officials over the weekend and obtained by NBC10 Boston.

Before reopening, each business or place of worship will be required to meet new COVID-19 workplace safety standards and protocols, according to the MMA email. Guidelines specific to each sector have also been established and detail the policies for social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting. Recommended best practices are included, too.

For places of worship, some of the guidelines they must comply with include limiting occupancy to 40-percent of the building's maximum permitted occupancy level and having all attendees sit at least six feet apart from anyone not in their immediate household.

Everyone, including staff, must wear face coverings or masks, and the building has to be cleaned and disinfected between each service. There will be no communal gatherings before or after services, and any childcare services must remain closed until additional guidance is provided.

Click here for the full list of the mandatory safety standards that places of worship must operate in compliance with.

Face coverings will also be required for all workers in the manufacturing industry, unless it creates a safety hazard. Other guidelines include six feet of separation between people at fixed working stations, supplying workers with adequate cleaning products, and frequent disinfecting of heavy transit areas, heavy machinery and high-touch surfaces like doorknobs or shared tools.

Additionally, lunch and break times are to be staggered, and businesses are to close or reconfigure employee common spaces and other high-density areas where workers are likely to gather.

The construction industry will be required to avoid handshaking and face-to-face meetings whenever possible. If meetings are held, they cannot have more than 10 people. Crews should be kept six feet apart at all times and must wear cut-resistant gloves. If social distancing isn't possible, workers must be supplied with personal protective equipment including face coverings, gloves and eye protection. Large gathering places on construction sites such as shacks and break areas must be eliminated.

Prior to starting a shift, employees will need to certify to their supervisor that they have no signs of a fever above 100.3 degrees, a cough or trouble breathing within the past 24 hours. They also will need to confirm they have not had "close contact" with an individual diagnosed with new coronavirus.

Additionally, a site-specific COVID-19 officer (who may also be the health and safety officer) has to be designated for every site except in certain situations. For large, complicated construction projects, a city or town may additionally require the owner to come up with a site-specific risk analysis and enhanced safety plan.

Click here for the full lists of the mandatory safety standards that construction and manufacturing businesses must operate in compliance with.

The state departments of Labor Standards and Public Health, in addition to local boards of health, will be jointly responsible for enforcing the mandatory safety standards. Enforcement will be on a scaled basis and can include fines and cease-and-desist letters.

NBC10 Boston has reached out to Gov. Baker's office for comment but had not heard back as of Sunday night.

Gov. Charlie Baker says the first phase of the Bay State's reopening is expected to begin May 18.

Baker has repeatedly said he intends to reopen the economy in a cautious and deliberate manner to minimize the risk of new waves of COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Baker’s reopening plan has four phases, beginning with start, then cautious, vigilant, and new normal.

In the “start” phase, Baker says industries that are more naturally set up to have little “face-to-face“ interaction will resume operations with severe restrictions.

“We know everyone is ready for things to get back to normal and so are we,” Baker said last week. 

Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts says the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is critical to many businesses. 

“Thirty percent of our members have said if we can’t be open in the month of May they are somewhat to extremely concerned that they will never reopen," Hurst said. 

Gov. Charlie Baker plans to announce which businesses will be allowed to reopen on Monday.

Massachusetts has been hit harder with the new coronavirus than other New England states. 

As of Sunday, 86,010 people have tested positive for the virus in Massachusetts, an increase of 1,077 from the previous day. The state Department of Public Health announced 92 new deaths, for a total of 5,797.

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