Starting Tuesday, restaurants and bars across Massachusetts can no longer accept sit-down patrons, as the state looks to limit the spread of the coronavirus through enforced social distancing. The move by Gov. Charlie Baker came on Sunday, after thousands of people crowded into local bars this weekend to celebrate St. Patrick's Day — despite admonitions from public health officials.
By Sunday, there were 164 presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, across Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Public Health.
On Saturday night, members of the Boston Irish Pipes and Drums band prepared to play at The Burren, an Irish pub in Somerville's Davis Square well known for its St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Band member Anne Dunn said that while she and her fellow musicians discussed concerns about COVID-19 beforehand, they never considered canceling.
"I do believe in people being conservative about their time out," Dunn said, "but I also think that we need to bring joy to people who are still trying to live their lives."
The crowd at The Burren on Saturday night was mostly young. One group of men in their 20s discussed their thoughts on the pandemic with WGBH News before heading into the bar.
"Apparently I feel really guilty about it, but I guess [I was] just deciding to have fun with friends over the greater good of the public," said Matt Mongada of Watertown. "Which, as I'm saying, it sounds terrible, and I should probably go home right now."
When asked if he would be going home, Mongada said no. "Unfortunately, [I'm] being a little selfish and going out with the boys."
"Selfish is exactly the right way to characterize it," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. He and his colleagues in the local medical community have been highlighting the importance of social distancing. But it was apparent on Saturday night that some remained unaware of what proper social distancing entails.
And while some Saturday evening expressed the idea that because they are not elderly, they don't need to be as concerned about social distancing, Kuritzkes said that kind of attitude is not wise.
"I think it’s really important for young people to take the threat of COVID-19 just as seriously as older people are taking it," Kuritzkes said. "First of all, there’s no protection from serious illness even if you’re young. We’ve seen reports of deaths of people even in their 30s. Secondly, you have a responsibility to the community. There will be plenty of time to party later. Putting off a little bit of fun now in order to keep the community safe and healthy is a very small ask."
Some have argued that ahead of the St. Patrick's Day weekend, the push for social distancing shouldn't have been a request, but a directive, like that handed down by Baker late Sunday. Government institutions at all levels have faced criticism for being too slow to enforce social distancing, and it won't be until Tuesday that bars across the state are closed and restaurants limited to take-out orders.