BOSTON (WPRI) — Massachusetts is entering the next step of its reopening plan Monday, though some of the nation’s top infectious disease experts are warning about loosening restrictions too soon.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, the nation’s leading infectious-diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned states pulling back restrictions “prematurely” in light of newly circulating, and more contagious COVID-19 variants.
“You want to get the level of baseline infections per day very low because if you look at that little plateau, particularly in the arena of having variants such as we have in California and such as we have in New York, it is really risky to say it’s over,” Fauci said.
“Just look historically at the late winter, early spring of 2020, or the summer of 2020, when we started to pull back prematurely, we saw the rebound,” he added.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker said with public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction, including drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations, and vaccination rates continuing to increase, the state could further reopen its economy.
Last May, Baker released a four-phased plan to reopen the economy, which relief on “sustained improvements” in public health data.
While moving ahead in phases over the last year, the state has had to take some steps backward.
In response to an increase in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations following the Thanksgiving holiday, Massachusetts returned to Step 1 of Phase 3 in December, which reduced capacities across a broad range of sectors and tightened several other workplace restrictions.
Since the beginning of this year, Baker says “key public health data,” such as new cases and hospitalizations, have been closely monitored. He says a significant decline has been documented, which has allowed the state to advance to Step 2 of Phase 3 starting Monday for all cities and towns.
This includes the following updates to businesses, activities and capacities:
- Indoor performance venues such as concert halls, theaters, and other indoor performance spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons
- Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact (laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, obstacle courses) will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity
- Capacity limits across all sectors with capacity limits will be raised to 50% and exclude employees
- Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will be permitted to host musical performances; six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table, and 90-minute limits remain in place
Though Massachusetts is reopening further, mask-wearing is still in place, and residents are encouraged to avoid contact outside their immediate households.
Owner and Manager of the Old Gristmill Tavern Greg Esmay said eased restrictions are welcome.
“We appreciate anything they do to make it better, but really we are just back to where we were a few months ago,” Esmay said.
He said the 100% capacity is likely to not make much of a difference.
“I think that is very misleading to the public, because the reality is we still have the six-foot restrictions, which means we still have over 16 tables missing from the dining room,” he said. “We still aren’t able to use our bar fully.”
Esmay said he is cautiously optimistic that people will start to feel more comfortable eating out.
“I want everything to open up, I want everything to go back to normal, but you don’t want to do it so fast that something goes wrong,” he said.
If the state’s health data continues down the right path, Step 1 of Phase 4 will begin on Monday, March 22.
On Monday, health officials reported 1,248 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, and an additional 26 people had died after contracting the virus.
The data also shows 788 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 184 patients in the intensive care unit and 119 on ventilators.