Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that the state will relax coronavirus restrictions on restaurants starting Monday, increasing the number of people allowed per table from six to 10 and allowing establishments to use bar seating for food service.
Bars and nightclubs remain closed until Phase 4 of the state's reopening, which isn't expected to happen until a vaccine has been achieved.
"Bars are closed, nightclubs are closed, but the evidence from other states with respect to this issue is clear," Baker said. "Restaurants can use bar seating for food service with appropriate distance in place."
Boston will opt out of the 10-person-per-table seating, Mayor Marty Walsh said later Wednesday, wanting to prevent large gatherings as it sees its COVID metrics increase.
The changes across Massachusetts come as colder weather approaches, which will make outdoor dining less viable.
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The governor also urged communities that are not in the red, highest-risk category for COVID-19 to bring their students back into the classroom instead of continuing with remote-only learning.
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley sent a letter to school districts in 16 low-risk coronavirus communities last week putting pressure on them to bring students back into the classroom and demanding a timeline within 10 days.
"Local officials run their local schools, we understand that," Baker said. "But the state has an obligation to ensure that local officials are providing the best possible education in these difficult circumstances for the kids and their communities."
Massachusetts reported 17 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths and 542 newly confirmed cases Wednesday, pushing the state’s confirmed death toll to 9,135 and its confirmed caseload to more than 126,400.
The seven-day weighted average of positive tests was less than 1%. The true number of cases is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 360 people reported hospitalized Wednesday because of COVID-19, with more than 70 in intensive care units.
The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 related deaths at care homes rose to 6,000, or about 66% of all confirmed and probable deaths in Massachusetts attributed to the disease.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.