Indoor performance venues, retail fitting rooms, roller rinks and laser tag facilities can reopen in Massachusetts communities with low levels of COVID-19 transmission starting Monday, the governor announced Tuesday.
Gov. Charlie Baker said the decision to move some municipalities into "Step 2" of Phase 3 of the reopening was based on his team of public health experts and the experiences of other states that have tracked the virus.
"We do have a lot of communities in Massachusetts that haven't seen a heck of a lot of COVID for quite a while and giving these communities the ability, with rules and guidance, to do some of the things that have proven to be safe in these other states just seems like an appropriate step," Baker said.
The state defines "lower risk communities" as any city of town that has consistently had fewer than eight reported cases of COVID-19 per 100 residents in the past three weeks and appear coded as either gray, green or yellow on the state's weekly community map.
Under the order Baker signed Tuesday, indoor and outdoor venues can operate at 50 percent capacity with a maximum of 250 people.
Recently reopened indoor and outdoor recreational facilities like arcades can reopen trampolines, obstacle courses and laser tag. Museums, libraries, and gyms can increase capacity to 50 percent. Outdoor venues in lower risk communities can expand from 50 to 100 guests.
The relaxation of restrictions comes as some health experts warn that the COVID-19 transmission rate in Massachusetts is beginning to creep back up.
The state reported 367 new cases of the virus Monday, bringing the total up to 128,793. Eleven new deaths brought the death toll in the state to 9,202. New cases were over 500 per day for several days last week, signaling to some health experts that Massachusetts could face a new surge.
Less than two hours before Baker's Tuesday afternoon press conference, a coalition of epidemiologists, health professionals, elected officials and others held a press conference of their own to pressure Baker into a more centralized approach to slowing COVID-19 and protecting front-line workers.
"Baker should focus on controlling the spread of the virus in the towns and neighborhoods suffering uninterrupted, disproportionate infection and death rates," said Noel Sanders, a community organizer at City Life/Vida Urbana and the Boston Community Healthy Initiative, reading from a letter to Baker signed by dozens of health workers urging him to set more workplace standards to protect frontline workers.
Baker's Stop the Spread testing program has expanded free testing in communities hardest hit by the virus and where restrictions will stay in place for the near future.
Some of Baker's fiercest criticism came from Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly, who said on the call that Baker is ignoring parts of a new law on how the state must report public health data. Connolly agreed with experts that the numbers indicate that Massachusetts could be in for a rough fall.
"And despite these warnings, that COVID is trending upward in Massachusetts. In just the last few days, we've seen really concerning actions by the governor. Yesterday, indoor dining was expanded and certain restrictions on indoor dining were lifted," Connolly said.