Gov. Charlie Baker announced the first steps in reopening the Massachusetts economy Monday, with a limited return to work for manufacturing facilities, health care providers, churches and construction sites.
The first phase of Baker's four-stage reopening plan will continue May 25 with the limited reopening of some beaches, zoos, parks and athletic fields. Some personal services like hair care, pet grooming and car washes can reopen on a limited basis, and retail will begin to open for curbside pickup May 25. Most fishing, hunting and boating will be able to reopen starting May 25.
All businesses that begin to reopen will be limited to less than 25% of their workplace capacity in order to maintain social distancing and will be required to produce written COVID-control plans. Workers must wear masks and employers must provide handwashing stations and increased sanitization of workspaces. Boston office spaces will remain closed until June 1.
The state has developed industry-specific checklists for businesses to reopen.
Beginning Monday, hospitals and community health centers can provide "high priority preventive care" and treatment for high-risk conditions; more providers will be able to open for these services May 25. Routine dental and other non-emergency care is still being held off until phase two.
Baker’s plan envisions each of the reopening phases lasting a minimum of three weeks, with precise timing determined by medical indicators of continuing decline in COVID-19 infections.
Under Baker’s plan, restaurant reopenings will not begin until the second phase — meaning tentatively mid-June — along with lodging, nail salons and some other personal services; bars, casinos, gyms and other entertainment venues will not reopen until phase three.
Recreational day camps will begin reopening in phase two and residential camps would reopen in phase three — meaning the earliest a residential camp would be able to open would be July.
The state is still working out long-term guidelines for child care providers, though Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito noted that the state has created 10,000 child care slots for emergency workers and only about 35% of those spaces have been used.
“We do have a significant amount of capacity that’s currently available on the child care side in the short term,” Baker said, “and folks are continuing to work on creating what we would call the appropriately safe operating model for child care going forward.”
But it was clear Baker does not yet have an answer to questions about what child care may look like for many families across the state. He said Massachusetts leaders are consulting with experts in other states and even other countries, and “It’s one of those issues that everybody knows they need to find an answer on, and we fully expect as we roll forward that we are going to have to find one too.”
MBTA buses, commuter rail and the T will continue their limited services for the first phase of reopening. In the second phase, some services will begin to come back online; full schedules would not resume until the third phase.
Schools in Massachusetts will remain closed for the rest of the school year, and Baker said plans for summer school and the next school year are still being developed. For higher education, research labs and health clinics can bring workers back, and education can resume in phases two and three with an emphasis on remote learning as necessary to maintaining social distancing.
Baker is also lifting his stay-at-home advisory on Monday and replacing it with a “safer at home” advisory, which provides a little more opportunity to get out but still maintains limited face-to-face contact. The guidance urges people to continue visiting with family and friends via video chat, limiting play dates for children and avoiding in-person visits to nursing homes and residential care facilities.
In order to track the state’s medical goals, Baker is rolling out a new dashboard of public health indicators that will be updated weekly and used to make decisions about further reopening: the COVID-19 positive test rate; the number of deaths; the number of hospitalizations; the health system capacity; testing capacity statewide; and the capability of the state’s contact tracing system.
Baker said that as the state reopens the economy, "this effort will hinge fundamentally on personal responsibility," and that citizens must continue to wear face coverings, avoid close contact with each other, wash hands regularly and stay home if they have any symptoms. "We can't move forward unless we commit to continuing to slow the spread," Baker said.
Sec. of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy said at the governor's announcment that the state will continue to encourage employers to allow employees to work from home. Polito said employers will be encouraged to stagger worker shifts in order to help reduce crowding on public transportation during rush hours.
Polito also said the state has convened a working group to develop reopening guidelines for restaurants, accomodations and tourism and has another group putting together health guidelines for reopening summer camps.
All of the state officials reiterated that progress in reopening will depend on continued progress in infection rates. If COVID-19 infections spike, the reopening plan may be revised.
"This is something no one's ever done before," Baker said, "shutter, then reopen everything from a beachfront to a factory floor with standards in place to slow the spread of a highly contagious virus."
While the Republican governor's press conference was going on, he was excoriated by Jim Lyons, the chairman of Massachusetts Republican Party, who tweeted "Governor Baker & Lg Polito just put in place the most restrictive business requirements in history. These regulations potentially will crush our economy. As I watch this press conference I feel so sad for the small struggling businesses in our state. Keep America Great."
The Masschusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses — a leading small business association — was less critical, but emphasized the imporatance of reopening small businesses as soon as possible.
"Retail shops will not last very long with curbside pickup only, so the state must allow customers in stores sooner rather than later," said NFIB State Director Christopher Carlozzi in a statement. "Restaurants also cannot operate solely on takeout and delivery. Massachusetts should at least allow outdoor dining like other neighboring New England states."
But Baker also received criticism from groups accusing him of moving too quickly to reopen the economy.
Lara Jirmanus, a Revere physician and organizer of a grassroots group called the Massachusets Coaliton for Health Equity said medical providers have already raised concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
With more businesses being allowed to reopen, Jirmanus told WGBH News she worries, "are there enough cleaning supplies for all the comapnies to do the cleaning that is required?" She said she has also seen many people out on the streets without wearing face coverings, suggesting that people are not taking the danger of the virus seriously.
"I am just not sure that we are ready as a population to safely return to work," she said.
And Fr. Tim Schenck, an Episcopoal priest in Hingham, tweeted that it is too soon to reopen places of worship.
"Apparently [Baker] is adding houses of worship to the Phase I opening in a limited capacity," Schenck wrote. "Because I love them, I refuse to turn my parishioners into canaries in the proverbial coal mine. We will only open when it’s safe. It is not safe."
Read the state's full plan below.