More people can eat at restaurants and work out at gyms in Massachusetts after relaxed restrictions took effect at 5 a.m. Monday.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced an increase in capacity limits for businesses last week, citing encouraging trends in the state's COVID-19 data, including a decline in hospitalizations and case counts.
The new capacity limit of 40% went into effect at 5 a.m. Monday, Feb. 8., after sitting at 25% since Dec. 26.
"People's work is paying off on this one," Baker said. "We just need to keep it up for a few more months."
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The state remains in Phase 3, Step 1 of its reopening plan, which means other restrictions are still in place. Indoor performance venues and indoor recreational businesses are still barred and restaurants must continue with table limitations of parties of six for a maximum of 90 minutes.
When the stricter capacity limits were announced, the seven-day average positive test rate was 5.94% and 1,991 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.
As of Sunday, Feb. 7, the positivity rate was 2.96% and 1,389 people were in hospitals for COVID-19 care. Baker said the state has seen "positive trends" in COVID-19 metrics since 2021 began.
Baker said the state will remain in Phase 3, Step 1 of its reopening plan, meaning indoor performance venues and indoor recreational businesses will remain closed until further improvements in the COVID-19 metrics are seen.
Indoor gatherings will continue to be limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings 25 people. For restaurants, the 90-minute time limit and 6-person cap per table will remain, as well.
"We know that these restrictions have been and continue to be enormously difficult for large and small businesses, their employees and individuals everywhere, but we're making progress in this battle against COVID, and everyone's hard work and preparation is now making it possible for us to continue to step back to what we might call a new normal," Baker said.
The announcement of an increased capacity limit was great news for people like Jaryd Belanger, who oversees 39 Planet Fitness locations.
"We’re just excited to have everybody back and like we said all along we think fitness is essential and we hope people see that to and come in and see how good of a job were doing," said Belanger, the vice president of operations.
While restaurants still have to adhere to time limits and a per table cap, restaurant owners like Frank DePasquale -- who owns several establishments in Boston's North End -- say they'll take whatever they can get.
Restaurants and local shops have been hit hard by the pandemic, which is why the owner of Brookline's Party Favors is so thankful for the increase to 40% capacity.
“Three customers on this side, three customers on that side. So it’s very tough. Thank god he raised it to 40%. Because sometimes they’re lined up out there and it’s so cold. I feel bad," owner John Pergantis said. "One time I brought them cupcakes & I passed them out because I felt bad for everybody.”
“Bringing it up to 40%, it helps a lot," said Hamilton's Restaurant owner, Greg Johnston. "Now not only with COVID but, we need it for us to survive and get through this and stay open I need the numbers to go up. I need people to come in here.”
The capacity increase comes just in time for Valentine's Day, too.
"Valentines is like the third biggest holiday, so it'll be great to have this 40% capacity," he said.