Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker toured a Braintree manufacturing company Wednesday that is part of phase one of the state's coronavirus reopening plan. But he still isn't ready to say when the second phase involving restaurants, in-store retail shopping, lodging and nail salons will start.
Starting this week, the plan allows manufacturing and construction to reopen assuming they can meet strict safety guidelines. Baker toured Symmons Industries on Wednesday, which he cited as an example of a company that has embraced the "new normal." The commercial and residential plumbing product manufacturer pivoted to producing personal protective equipment to support the COVID-19 response.
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Office space, hair salons and curbside retail operations are slated to open beginning on Monday. But many other industries included in the second and third phases of the governor's plan are still waiting to hear when they'll be able to rehire staff and open their doors to customers.
"I don't want to speak hypotheticals on this," Baker said when asked Wednesday when the second phase might start. "We're all dealing with a virus no one's ever dealt with before. We're going through a process here on reopening that's never been done before. We believe it's really important that those data elements drive each phase."
Baker said while announcing the reopening plan that there would likely be three weeks between each phase, assuming certain public health benchmarks continue to be met.
"The decision to move to the next phase will be based on data," he said. "That will be a big indicator with respect to what happens next. We have a big role to play in getting to the next phase. Our role is to continue to do the things that took Massachusetts from being a state with one of the biggest outbreaks in the country to where we are today, with trend lines that have been going down for almost three weeks."
Baker said the Reopening Advisory Board will continue to work with public health officials to develop guidelines and protocols for industries included in phase two so they have the ability to start thinking about how they would incorporate them into their operations.
"We get the fact that this is difficult for people and we also understand there are issues associated with reopening, but we also were one of the hardest hit states by COVID-19," the governor said. "We believe moving forward on a careful, cautious basis is the only way this makes sense."
Baker's press conference was the first time he had spoken publicly since unveiling his reopening plan on Monday. He did not face the cameras Tuesday an instead went over next steps with his Cabinet and others.
The news coming out of the Department of Public Health on Tuesday afternoon was generally positive, though the virus's death toll now sits just shy of 6,000. Wednesday marks two months since the first COVID-19 death in Massachusetts was announced. In total, almost 88,000 residents have been infected with the virus.
With Baker out of the spotlight the day after announcing his administration's four-phase reopening plan, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh took center stage and said the governor's plan to open Boston offices at 25% capacity might be "too much" too soon.
"I'm personally not comfortable with the 25%, to be quite honest with you, and we're looking at it now. I just had a conversation before I came down about what the number would be, but I think 25% on the first day would be too much," Walsh said.
Baker said Wednesday that he understands Walsh's concerns and the 25% figure was only meant as a cap. He said cities and towns can limit office reopenings to lower numbers as they see fit.
Walsh said construction on schools, hospitals, smaller residential projects and open-air construction will begin this week with contractors required to submit COVID-19 safety plans before returning to work, while all other work allowed by the state won't resume until next Tuesday, after Memorial Day.
The city is also working with employers to develop more specific guidance and support structures to help businesses bring workers safely back to office buildings throughout the city on June 1.
State House News Service contributed to this report.