Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced that he is extending the state's non-essential business closures and stay-at-home advisory to May 18. It had previously been set to expire two weeks earlier on May 4.
"I know pushing these dates back a couple weeks is probably not what people want to hear," he said. "Believe me, I'm just as frustrated as anybody else. We all look forward to stepping in front of this podium to tell you that we're starting to reopen for business. I know we'll get there soon, but we have to be smart in how we do it."
Baker said his order also extends the ban on gatherings of 10 people or more until May 18.
"I get the fact that it's hard and it gets harder as the weather gets nicer and as time gets longer, and it's especially hard if you're out of work or if your business isn't able to operate," he said. "But there is literally no one who thinks you can open the door and put people back into working environments if you haven't seen any negative trends."
Baker also announced the formation of a 17-member Reopening Advisory Board on Tuesday led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The panel includes public health officials and members of the business community and municipal government.
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"This is a process that needs to be smart, needs to be putting safety first and needs to be phased," Polito said.
She said the advisory board's first meeting will be held on Tuesday afternoon.
"The steps we're taking now and what we're able to begin planning with respect to reopening and how we carry out that process for Massachusetts is critically important and we think it should begin now," Baker said. "We're moving in the right direction with respect to the virus but we're not where we need to be."
The governor said he remains focused on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and overall intensive care unit use for the coronavirus as a barometer for when the state will be ready to reopen.
"Yes, it's flattened out, but we have not seen a downward trend there," he said. "That's a really important measure about what's going on out there in the community in general."
Asked if he might eventually have to extend the business closures and stay-at-home advisory beyond May 18, Baker said it's too soon to say but he won't reopen the state's economy unless he feels it is safe to do so.
"The bottom line is that if we don't see any downward trends then you are running a terrible risk," he said.
Some residents agreed that the state needs more time before reopening.
"This is going to be life-altering for a long time, I think," said Boston resident Katherine Rice.
"Social distancing is exactly what we need to be doing to flatten the curve," said nursing student Jillian Polutchko. "And not have too many people at the hospital at once."
Others expressed concern about the economic impact of remaining closed.
"I do think we have to figure out a way to get these businesses going," said Boston resident Devina Kumar. "I think it's going to be so long before we can actually return to any state of normalcy."
Business owners were also conflicted.
"I was hoping for a better report on the virus," said Harold Tubman, president of Circle Furniture.
Tubman agrees with the priority of health and safety first. But like many business owners, he's looking forward to re-opening soon.
"I would like to see him relax the regulations of having/allowing a couple of employees in the store," he said.
Tubman says furniture stores would adapt well to safe guidelines like social distancing and wearing protective gear.
"We don't have a lot of people at one time, so it's a fairly large, open area," he said.
"For the business community it may be too little too late," said Doug Banks, editor of the Boston Business Journal.
Banks says the clock is ticking for businesses who need to use their Paycheck Protection Program funds so the loans will be forgivable.
"At the same time, now they have another three weeks to wait. So I think the governor could've made this decision quicker," he said.
Massachusetts health officials reported 104 new COVID-19 deaths Monday, bringing the the total number of deaths in the state since the pandemic began to 3,003.
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The state also reported 1,524 new cases, for a total of more than 56,000.
Nearly 1,700 of the deaths were in residents of long-term care facilities, and more than 98% of all the people who died had underlying health conditions, the department said.