Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday the state will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan next week, as health officials say metrics in the fight against the coronavirus continue to trend in the right direction.
Baker said Phase 3, which begins Monday, allows for the reopening of facilities such as casinos, fitness centers, gyms, movie theaters and museums with safety protocols in place.
The start of Phase 3 will be delayed by one week until July 13 in Boston, however, after city officials requested extra time to prepare.
"These are all important steps that continue to bring us closer to what we might call our ultimate 'new normal,'" Baker said. "But it's important that we continue to play our part in the fight against this insidious disease."
Bars and nightclubs will not be allowed to reopen until Phase 4, which won't happen until a vaccine or therapeutic to fight COVID-19 becomes available, the governor said.
Baker said he had spoken with other governors who have encountered challenges in the reopening bars, saying "we could not figure out a way to do that safely."
Baker said Phase 3, like the previous phase, will occur in two steps.
In the first stage of Phase 3, sports teams to hold games in the area, but without spectators. Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were scheduled to hold a press conference with Red Sox officials at Fenway Park later Thursday.
Fitness clubs and gyms, including those that offer weight training, cross training, spin classes and yoga, will be allowed to reopen Monday with new protocol in place.
Such facilities must keep occupancy at less than 40%, require face masks and sanitizing equipment after every use.
Museum and cultural and historical institutions, as well as small guided tours, will also be able to resume operations with limited capacity. Signs about social distancing must be clearly visible. Groups on vehicles such as buses, trolleys and duckboats must be limited to 50 capacity.
The governor also announced he was loosening guidelines on social gatherings, allowing for more people to gather both indoors and outdoors.
Starting Monday, except in Boston, people will be allowed to hold indoor gatherings of no more than 25 people, up from the current limit of 10. Outdoor gatherings in enclosed spaces are limited to 25 percent of a facility's maximum occupancy and should not exceed 100 people in an outdoor enclosed space. This does not include gatherings in unenclosed outdoors spaces, Baker said.
For indoor and outdoor events such as weddings and parties, bars and dance floors must remain closed and guests must be arranged in groups not larger than six people.
The announcement came as key metrics in the state's efforts to contain the virus continue to trend downward. The state on Tuesday reported no new coronavirus deaths, the first time that's happened in months, though health officials announced 28 new fatalities Wednesday.
According to the Baker administration, the seven-day average for the positive COVID-19 test rate fell by 94 percent; and the three-day average of hospitalized patients is down by 79 percent.
Elsewhere, however, the cases have spiked. Numerous states have moved to roll back some of their reopening measures, including Arizona, Texas, Florida, Virginia and California, which have have taken steps to re-close beaches and bars.
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Baker urged residents to continue practicing social distancing to keep the virus at bay.
“We’ve made progress, but we’re far from being out of the woods and COVID-19 will be with us until there’s a vaccine or some medical breakthroughs with respect to treatments,” he said.
Baker and other officials urge people to continue social distancing and wear masks over the July 4 weekend.
Baker last week said he was able to lift the guidelines for travelers from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey starting Wednesday due to a "significant decline in cases and new hospitalizations" in those places.
Visitors from outside the neighboring seven states should still comply with the 14-day quarantine, a guideline that his been in place for nearly two months. This does not apply to workers deemed essential coming into the state for work purposes, Baker said.
Baker said anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus is urged not to enter the state.