While the rest of Massachusetts is already in Phase 3 of the state's economic reopening plan, Somerville has decided to postpone its reopening again.
The city had initially said it would push its Phase 3 opening back to July 20 -- two weeks after most of the rest of the state entered Phase 3. On Friday, Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced that he has pushed back the latest phase of reopening until Aug. 3 at the earliest due to rising new case averages in the metro area and concerns about the state's contact tracing program.
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"We do so out of an abundance of caution," Curtatone said Friday. "In the metro region we've seen case numbers ticking up slightly, and in Somerville in the last week alone we've seen 15 new positive cases where in prior weeks it was about five. We need to make sure that's not a trend."
"We know small numbers can flash into big ones on a dime," he added. "We've certainly seen the stories in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states. California should be a warning sign for us."
Gyms, movie theaters, cultural centers and performance venues are among the establishments that will have to wait longer to reopen. Phase 3 health and human services categories opened in Somerville according to the statewide plan on July 6.
“To reopen we must have either steady or downward case trends locally and regionally -- not just statewide," said Doug Kress, Somerville's director of health and human services. "We must also have all of the critical components for safe reopening in place. That’s widespread easily accessible testing, effective contact tracing and tracking, and isolation support backed up by widespread compliance with requirements for face coverings, social distancing, hygiene, and business safety protocols. Massachusetts has made incredible progress over the last few months. We don’t want to undo that by pushing forward without every element in place."
Somerville, the most densely populated city in New England, has had almost 1,000 COVID-19 cases and over 30 deaths. It’s why Curtatone has said the city needs to take a more cautious approach than the rest of the state.
He has said the main goal should be to get schools to open in the fall.
“Our hope is that the 7- and 14-day averages over the next two weeks will show that cases are trending down," Curtatone said. "Our hope is that promised improvements to State contact tracing efforts will be effective. But if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks, we’ll be glad we delayed. What we do now will determine how safely we can reopen schools in the fall, whether businesses that struggled to reopen can avoid costly reclosures, and how many people get sick and how many die. These are serious times and we must take every step with the caution it deserves.”
The city had said in early July that it would follow a more cautious reopening schedule than what Gov. Charlie Baker had laid out for Massachusetts' Phase 3, at first naming July 13 as the earliest date it would begin.