‘I’m worried that this is not going to help;’ Dr. Jha concerned about Mass. reopening timeline

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A number of COVID-19 restrictions are set to be lifted in Massachusetts over the coming weeks, but some public health experts are concerned it’s too soon.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday Massachusetts will ease its outdoor mask mandate Friday.

On May 10, theme parks can operate at 50% capacity, plus large venues can increase capacity indoors and outdoors from 12% to 25%, the governor added.

Subject to public health and vaccination data, Gov. Baker said by May 29, outdoor festivals and parades can be held at 50% of their previous capacity. Bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries and distilleries can operate under restaurant rules with a 90-minute time limit and no dance floors as well.

In a virtual question and answer session with reporters Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, also a Massachusetts resident, was asked about the Bay State’s reopening plan for this summer.

“No one at this point is arguing we need to stay shut down for many more months,” Jha said. “The question in my mind is, ‘how quickly?'”

Jha pointed out over the last few months, infection numbers in Massachusetts have been “much higher than the national average,” adding he’s felt it’s because the state has been “too open.”

“Really, it’s a judgment call basically, based on how many infections, hospitalizations and deaths you’re willing to tolerate,” Jha said. “I think we’ve been willing to tolerate too many of those in the recent few months.”

However, Jha said he also felt Massachusetts was making “phenomenal progress” in vaccinations, and infection numbers have been heading in the right direction.

By May 29, gathering limits will also increase to 200 people inside and 250 outside for event venues and public and private settings in Massachusetts.

“The idea of 200 people gathering indoors when 40% of our adults and about half of our population isn’t vaccinated… that’s a pretty high risk event, if a lot of those people are unvaccinated,” Jha told reporters Tuesday.

Jha said he’s worried the further reopening of the economy will “hamper the desire” to get infection numbers lowered in Massachusetts. He says low infection numbers are necessary since children are not eligible for the vaccine, and immunocompromised people who are vaccinated may not have as much protection as others who are.

“There’s a lot of good reasons to drive infection numbers lower, and I’m worried that this not going to help,” he added.

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