Could Massachusetts Reopen Sooner Than Planned? Here's What Gov. Baker Said

The final phase in the state's reopening is currently scheduled for Aug. 1, which is later than most other states in the northeast

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With northeast states like New York and New Jersey set to fully lift COVID-19 restrictions later this month, Gov. Charlie Baker was asked Thursday if there's any chance Massachusetts will accelerate its reopening plans.

"We're gonna play this game based on our data and our information," he said. "Other states will do whatever other states will do."

Baker said he's extremely proud of the fact that even as cases and hospitalizations were spiking in other parts of the U.S. during the latest surge, Massachusetts had one of the lowest positive case counts and among the lowest hospitalization rates.

"The numbers were big and scary, but nothing like in other parts of the country. We did not have the same kind of triage going on here in Massachusetts."

Currently, Massachusetts isn't scheduled to fully reopen until Aug. 1. But Baker said it's possible that date could get moved up.

Massachusetts businesses can fully reopen without restrictions on Aug. 1, but some in the tourism industry say that's too late in the summer to bounce back.

"We're going to continue to play this game based on what we think makes the most sense for Massachusetts," he reiterated. "If we see significant progress in the data over the course of the next month or so, we'll make adjustments."

Right now, large venues including indoor and outdoor stadiums will be allowed to increase capacity and amusement parks, theme parks and outdoor water parks will be permitted to reopen at 50% capacity on May 1. Road races and youth and adult sports tournaments will also be allowed for moderate and high risk sports.

On May 29, the state will increase limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and will begin allowing street festivals and parades. Bars, beer gardens and breweries will also be allowed to reopen with some restrictions.

The final stage in the state's reopening is currently scheduled for Aug. 1 and will include dance clubs and nightclubs, saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms, and indoor water parks and ball pits.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker announces an update on the outdoor mask mandate and new business reopening guidelines.

Baker spoke Thursday during a visit to Panela Restaurant in Lowell, where he also discussed the state's COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program.

More than 40% of grants distributed through the nearly $700 million small business relief program have gone to minority-owned businesses, Baker administration officials said, touting their success at reaching the hardest-hit communities as the funding winds down.

Since October, the administration has distributed $687 million to more than 15,000 local employers through its COVID-19 small business relief program. Forty-three percent of the grants went to minority-owned establishments, and 46% went to women-owned businesses, Baker said Thursday during a press conference in Lowell.

Those rates drew praise from Amplify Latinx Executive Director Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, who said the intentional focus on communities of color helped those disproportionately affected by the pandemic through dire stretches.

"This doesn't happen by accident," Ubiera-Minaya said. "The success of this program happens when you make a concerted effort and you are intentional about directing these funds specifically to support the needs of our minority communities."

The administration announced another $5 million in grants will flow to 108 businesses in the final round of funding. Asked about the potential for additional small business relief grants during the summer, Baker said a "trickle" of funding will continue but that "the big bowl of this program has been distributed at this point in time."

Thursday's remarks came after Baker announced earlier in the week that the state will be adding walk-up COVID-19 vaccination appointments at six mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts beginning on Monday.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker toured the Everett casino Wednesday as the state shifts from mass vaccination sites to smaller community-based operations like the one at Encore.

Baker said the addition of walk-up slots at the Hynes Convention Center and Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers, the former Circuit City in Dartmouth, and malls in Natick and Springfield will make it easier for Massachusetts residents to access vaccines.

He said the state's Vaxfinder website will list the hours for each location and details associated with pursuing walk-up appointments.

Baker has said that Massachusetts is on track to meet its goal of vaccinating 4.1 million people by early June. Already, 3.9 million people have been vaccinated, with another 180,000 scheduled to get their first dose in the next week.

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