Baker reinstating some restrictions to slow COVID-19 spread

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By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker is reinstating some restrictions meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus as the state experiences a second surge in cases of COVID-19, which is putting more strain on the state’s health care system.

While Baker’s move will tighten up some restrictions, restaurants, casinos and many other indoor venues will still be allowed to remain open, even as the state is again opening field hospitals to help cope with rising numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Beginning Sunday, the state will reduce the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 under the new guidelines outlined by Baker at a Tuesday press conference. Hosts of outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people will be required to provide advance notice of the gathering to their local board of health.

Indoor theaters and performance venues will once again have to close. Outdoor theaters and performance venues will be limited to 25% capacity, with no more than 50 people. Movie theaters will be limited to a maximum of 50 people per theater.

Stores, houses of worship, gyms, libraries, museums and other indoor spaces will have to reduce their capacity from 50% to 40%. Office workers must wear masks when not in their own workspace and alone, and should work from home if possible.

At restaurants, diners must wear masks at all time except while eating or drinking. No more than six people will be allowed at a table instead of 10, and there will now be a 90-minute limit for meals. Food courts in malls will close. Diners at restaurants should only be eating with members of their households if possible.

Baker said the increase in the rate that Massachusetts residents are getting infected and the rate at which they need medical care is not sustainable over time.

“Massachusetts is being tested again,” Baker said. “We have to do more.”

Baker defended his decision to allow restaurants to continue offering indoor dining.

“Anybody who’s been in a restaurant for the past eight months knows it’s a totally different experience from what it was before and that’s a good thing,” Baker said.

Among those who have criticized Baker for not taken more aggressive action is Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, who said on Twitter Saturday that he’d gone “from uncomfortable to aghast at lack of action” by Baker in the face of the increased spread of the disease.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy also faulted Baker.

“Educators are desperate to teach their students in person, but they are growing increasingly frightened as cases rise among students and staff,” Najimy said in a written statement Tuesday.

On Friday, hospitals will put a temporary halt to in-patient elective surgeries that can safely be postponed.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders on Tuesday also put out a call for doctors, nurses and other medical workers to help staff field hospitals in Worcester and Lowell.

Baker said he understands the tightened restrictions will be difficult for many businesses and residents.

“We’re social people. We miss our friends,” he said. “We get it.”

©The Associated Press 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, Massachusetts, Regional News