- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2020

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday outlined a phased-in approach to gradually restart the Massachusetts economy, which was largely shuttered nearly two months ago as the state ramped up its fight against the coronavirus which has claimed nearly 5,800 lives in the state.

In the first phase beginning Monday, manufacturing and construction can reopen provided they follow standards meant to curb the spread of the virus. Houses of worship can resume services if they follow social distancing. Outdoor services are encouraged.

On May 25, lab and office spaces can reopen as well as hair salons, pet grooming and car wash locations. Retail business can do curbside pick-up. On June 1, office space can reopen in Boston.

As part of phase one, hospitals and community health centers will be allowed to provide high-priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients and conditions.

Some recreation will also be allowed to restart May 25, including parks, drive-in theaters, some athletic fields and courts, most fishing and hunting, boating, gardens, and zoos.



Baker said everyone must continue practicing proper hygiene, maintaining social distancing, and using facial coverings in public places.

People over 65 and those with underlying health conditions - who are at higher risk for COVID-19 - should continue staying home except for essential errands like going grocery shopping and attending to health care needs.

Other residents are advised to leave home only for health care, worship and permitted work, shopping, and outdoor activities and shouldn’t participate in close contact activities like pick-up sports.

Retail businesses, restaurants, hotels and other personal services such as nail salons and day spas can reopen as part of phase two.

Each phase will last at least three weeks. If health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions or the entire state may need to return to an earlier phase.

Baker said there hasn’t been a decision made yet on when, and how, professional sports teams like the Patriots and Red Sox could begin playing games again.

The virus will continue to be a health threat, Baker said.

“If we don’t keep up the fight and don’t do the things that we all know we have to do - and know we can do - we run the risk of creating a second spike in the fall,” Baker said.

The Republican governor closed all but essential businesses on March 23.

Massachusetts has had the third highest number of deaths of any state, after New York and New Jersey.

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COVID-19 UPDATE

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts topped 87,000 on Monday after another 1,042 individuals tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

There were 65 new COVID-19-related deaths reported Monday, bringing the total number of deaths to 5,862 since the start of the pandemic.

There were more than 2,500 people currently hospitalized with the disease, down from more than 3,500 two weeks ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care also fell to 674 — down from 908 two weeks ago.

The number of deaths at long-term care facilities stood at 3,574 - or about 61% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the state. ___

CHILD CARE

How best to reopen child care centers is still under consideration, according to the plan released Monday.

State officials are developing guidelines designed to balance the need for child care with health and safety.

In the meantime, an emergency child care system created to support essential workers is still in place and currently only using about 35 percent of its 10,000-child capacity.

That system will be able to help families as final plans are drawn up, Baker said.

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SMALL BUSINESSES

Small businesses are eager to reopen fully, but are glad to be able to at least offer curbside pickup May 25, said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Business said Monday.

“Retail shops will not last very long with pickup only, so the state must allow customers in stores sooner rather than later” Carlozzi said in a press release.

Carlozzi said among other challenges, business face what he described as “the hurdle of competing with overly generous unemployment benefits when attempting to rehire workers.”

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MARIJUANA SHOPS, RESTAURANTS

Recreational marijuana shops are gearing up to offer curbside pickup.

The industry has already developed a COVID-19 safety plan, according to David Torrisi, president of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association.

“We have long maintained that adult-use retail facilities are uniquely prepared to safely operate,” Torrisi said, noting medical marijuana dispensaries continued operating through the economic shutdown.

Restaurant owners said they’re disappointed with the lack of a defined reopening date.

“Massachusetts restaurants need their suppliers to have time to restock perishable inventory before it can be delivered to them,” said Steve Clark, of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

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PREMATURE REOPENING?

A group including doctors, nurses, workers, religious leaders and lawmakers are warning Baker could be risking lives by restarting the economy prematurely.

“We all know that Massachusetts residents are anxious to go back to work, but workers should not have to choose between earning a living and protecting their lives,” said Dr. Regina LaRocque, a physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Critics also faulted Baker for not including workers on his reopening advisory board.

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DROPKICK MURPHYS-SPRINGSTEEN

Boston-based rockers the Dropkick Murphys are planning a two-song set at an empty Fenway Park this month to raise money for charity. The band will be joined remotely by Bruce Springsteen on May 29 for “Streaming Outta Fenway,” which will be simulcast live.

A text-to-donate campaign will support the Boston Resiliency Fund - set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic - as well as Feeding America and Habitat for Humanity.

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