Yesterday, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the city of Boston will roll back its reopening plan to combat the winter surge of coronavirus, a move joined by neighboring towns of Arlington, Brockton, Lynn, Newton, Somerville, and Winthrop. The news comes amidst criticism of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker from public health experts and elected officials for not doing more to stop the spread of the virus, as he rolled the state back to Phase III, Step 1 last week. GBH News State House reporter Mike Deehan joined Joe Mathieu on Morning Edition today to explain the differing approaches on the state and local levels.

“This had been bubbling up for a while,” Deehan said about Mass. cities and towns rolling back to Phase II, Step 2. “But none of them wanted to do it on their own.” Deehan says this collective agreement between towns is an attempt to avoid a negative business impact, and communicates urgency. “It also sends a message to people in those areas: ‘It is bad, this is a second surge, you should really stay home.’”

But, Deehan notes, by choosing a more modest rollback, Baker is not going as far as other governors across the country have, like in California, where 85% of residents are currently under stay-at-home orders from Governor Gavin Newsom. “That’s why mayors and city officials are stepping up and saying more needs to happen,” Deehan said about the reaction to the rollbacks from Mass. towns.

Throughout the pandemic, Baker has maintained that cities and towns can choose to step back farther than the state, but this is the first time they’ve actually done it. “They [the towns] have to band together and do it collectively in the absence of a whole state shutdown — that’s why there’s so much advocacy for a statewide shutdown,” Deehan said.

"He's [Gov. Baker] always said cities and towns can step back on their own, they can go all the way back to step one if they wanted to. But this is the first time we've seen cities and towns actually do it."
Clip: Deehan discusses the advocacy behind a state shutdown

Debates around a statewide shutdown echo conversations from the beginning of the pandemic, when some questioned the governor’s authority to enact dramatic and sweeping stay-at-home orders. Last week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, ruled that Baker’s orders were legally justified on the grounds of the state’s Civil Defense Act. Deehan noted that this law, from 1950, was meant for “Cold War-style chaos,” but the SJC ruled that the pandemic does indeed “fit the bill” for emergency action.

Watch: Does the governor have the authority to shut down the economy?

Although a strict shutdown is within Baker’s power, Deehan said Baker is hesitant on a broader rollback and is opting for a more targeted approach. “Baker faces a ton of pressure from not only the restaurant industry, but from parents and schools,” Deehan said. “He wants schools open — that’s one thing he’s been adamant about this entire time, is that kids need in-person learning. That’s why Baker has chosen this middle road.”