Here are some of the top coronavirus stories from around New England on Friday.
Gov. Charlie Baker said his decision to shutter houses of worship during the state of emergency "was the right thing to do, but I hated doing it.'"
They have been allowed to restart services this week as long as they practice social distancing.
"The Department of Justice has made very clear to a number of states that peoples' ability to access church and practice their faith is a constitutional question that they are pushing people at the state level pretty hard on," Baker told WGBH News. "I couldn't ignore that."
Baker declined to say whether he would support efforts by some in the state Legislature to mail ballots to every registered voter for the fall elections.
"I really haven't spent any time thinking about it," Baker said. "People think this is something that needs to happen soon? I mean the elections are a long way away."
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Baker also said he hopes coronavirus cheek swab or nasal swab tests that can be self-administered will be available this summer, which could help the state increase testing. Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have been tested once after they had "conversations at a distance" with Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco, who later tested positive for the virus. Baker said he and Polito both tested negative
CVS Health is opening 12 new drive-thru coronavirus testing sites at pharmacies across Massachusetts on Friday, the company said. The new sites will utilize self-swab tests that won't require people to leave their vehicles.
No testing will be done in stores. The tests are done under the supervision of a CVS employee and results are usually available in three days. Preregistration is required.
The Rhode Island-based company plans to open 1,000 sites across the nation by the end of the month. The sites opening Friday are in Chelsea, Falmouth, Haverhill, New Bedford, Salem, Shrewsbury, Southwick, Waltham, Winchendon, Wrentham and two in Holbrook
New Hampshire is considering a different approach than its neighbors when it comes to allowing out-of-state residents back in its hotels and other lodging establishments.
In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such accommodations would be limited to New Hampshire residents or out-of-staters who have quarantined at home for 14 days before arrival, according to a proposal submitted Thursday to the Economic Reopening Task Force.
In Vermont, hotels and other lodging will open May 22 to Vermont residents and those who have quarantined in Vermont for 14 days, with the quarantine requirements removed on June 15. Similarly, Maine lodging will open June 1 for Maine residents and out-of-staters who quarantine in Maine. That date originally had been July 1 but the restrictions were later loosened.
The proposal under consideration in New Hampshire would be an update to recommendations approved by the task force on May 12. Those recommendations included a May 22 opening date, but public health officials and Gov. Chris Sununu haven’t acted on them yet.
The task force also heard proposals Thursday related to road races, driver’s education and the tattoo and esthetics industries. Some members also pushed for revisiting previous rules on the reopening of hair salons, particularly one that limits appointments to one hour.
“It has hampered the salons that have opened,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry. “We should send a strong recommendation from the task force to let them do their jobs and give them the time they need.”
Connecticut state police say they are prepared to disperse any crowds that gather in parks, malls or outdoor restaurants this holiday weekend, but are not looking to make arrests or issue citations for violations of the state’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Trooper Josue Dorelus, a state police spokesman, said people found without face masks or failing to socially distance will be educated before any enforcement action is taken.
“I think if we do our part to provide them with the information needed to keep them safe, it will go a long way,” he said. “We’ve been finding a lot of cooperation from members of the public and we don’t anticipate that being a huge issue or concern.”
Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday made it easier for law enforcement to legally enforce social distancing and other orders by expanding the definition of what is legally considered a public nuisance.
His executive order allows state and local police to enforce violations of orders “issued pursuant to a civil preparedness or public health emergency and there is a public health need to add additional enforcement capabilities.”
Monday’s order extended Connecticut’s state of emergency through June 20.
It also gives local health directors more power to close restaurants, clubs and hair salons that are not in compliance with the new social distancing and health regulations
The state is planning to close parks and trails for the day once their parking lots fill to capacity, which has been reduced at some places to 25% of what it was before the pandemic.
Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, urged people who are turned away from parks not to give the rangers a hard time or try to park outside and walk in.
“We do have a terrific environmental conservation officer force,” she said. “They’ve been out there doing patrols, our park staff as well.”
Dorelus said the state police have not been keeping track of citations, but have found that the vast majority of residents comply when asked to put on a mask or maintain proper social distancing.
“It’s understandable that people are frustrated,” he said. “A lot of people are cooped up at home and want to get outside and enjoy time with friends and family.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo suggested Thursday the state is “out of crisis mode” and moving into the recovery phase, based on the latest statistics on the virus’ spread.
“There is a light at the end of this tunnel,” she said. “We’re in good shape with containing the virus.”
The state Department of Health on Thursday reported 189 new positive cases of COVID-19, and 18 more deaths. That brings the state’s totals to nearly 13,600 cases and more than 550 fatalities.
The number of people hospitalized with the disease declined slightly to 254, according to the latest figures.
The state’s virus-related travel restrictions remain in effect as Memorial Day weekend approaches, Raimondo said Thursday. That means anyone coming to Rhode Island from out of state still has to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Meanwhile, businesses on the popular tourist destination of Block Island are bracing for a tough summer with fewer visitors than years past, Steven Filippi, president of the Block Island Tourism Council, told WPRI-TV.
Filippi, who owns Ballard’s Beach Resort, also said a number of island businesses might not open until after the holiday weekend in order to meet new state guidelines for reopening safely.
“If we have a poor year, where we’re down 30% or 40%, you’re going to see economic damage that is permanent, and I’m afraid Block Island will never recover,” he told the station.
Maine’s governor overruled the opinion of an assistant attorney general in calling for an end to unemployment payments to prisoners, a practice she described as “appalling.”
Maine inmates whose work-release jobs were suspended because of the pandemic were paid nearly $200,000 in unemployment benefits before Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, put the kibosh on the practice. She said in a May 15 letter to Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty that the practice was “bad public policy” and needed to end.
Fifty-three inmates were paid a total of $198,767 in jobless benefits after the Department of Corrections stopped allowing them to participate in work release jobs in March. Assistant Attorney General Nancy Macirowski informed the Maine Department of Labor in April that the payments were appropriate because the prisoners had lost their work release jobs because of the virus.
Macirowski also told the labor department that the prisoners were eligible because “it is the expectation that these prisoners will return to their work release jobs when the quarantine is lifted.”
But Mills said it was never the intent of the Maine Legislature or the U.S. Congress to provide state or federal benefits to inmates, and that work release employment is a privilege, not a right.
Mills was the state’s attorney general before she was elected governor in 2018.
Maine GOP executive director Jason Savage said the payments “never should have happened in the first place” and illustrate why the Maine Legislature needs to have tighter oversight of state departments.
The Courier-Gazette newspaper first uncovered the payments through a Freedom of Access Act request.
Beginning Friday, Vermonters seeking to eat at restaurants once again during the time of COVID-19 are finally able to do so.
The rules that take effect Friday, allow outdoor dining, but restaurants must follow strict guidelines, including that tables be spaced a minimum of 10 feet apart and members of only two households and a total of no more than 10 people may be seated at the same table.
Disposable menus are required and disposable or single-use condiment packages are encouraged. Operators must maintain a log of customers in the event that contact tracing is required.
The Vermont Air National Guard will be honoring the state’s health care workers with a flight of four F-35 fighter jets over the state’s hospitals.
The Guard says the planes will take off from the South Burlington airport about noon and then fly over hospitals and other locations in all four corners of the state. The entire flight is scheduled to take about an hour.