Governor Baker says lower-risk COVID-19 communities can move ahead to next step of reopening

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said Tuesday that starting Oct. 5, communities in the lower risk COVID-19 category can allow some performance venues to increase their capacity, along with gyms, museums, and libraries.

Lower risk communities on Oct. 5 will be permitted to open indoor performance venues with 50 percent capacity and a maximum of 250 people; increase the outdoor venue capacity to 50 percent with the same 250-person ceiling; open attractions such as trampolines, obstacle courses, roller rinks and laser tag at 50 percent capacity; and open fitting rooms in all types of retail stores, the statement said.

In addition, Baker’s office said, the lower risk communities will be able to increase capacity to 50 percent at museums, libraries and driving and flight schools.

“On May 18, the Baker-Polito Administration released a four-phased plan to reopen the economy based on sustained improvements in public health data,” the statement said. “Last month, the Administration began releasing data on the average daily COVID cases per 100,000 residents, average percent positivity, and total case counts, for all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Lower risk communities are defined as cities and towns that have not been a ‘red’ community in any of the last three weekly Department of Public Health (DPH) weekly reports.”

Speaking during an afternoon briefing Tuesday at the State House, Baker said that officials through contact tracing efforts and observing other states have determined that the activities that’ll be permitted Oct. 5 in lower risk cities and towns “have not led to significant [virus] transmission in other states.”

Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said a community must be in a lower risk category for three straight weeks before it can take advantage of the loosened restrictions. And, Polito said, if a municipality goes back into a high-risk category, it will have to revert to the more restrictive guidelines.

“It is important that we reopen our economy and support our local businesses, but as we’ve said before, this virus is still with us,” Polito said.

Separately, the Baker administration on Tuesday announced a revised gatherings order for the state. According to the revised order, the limit for indoor gatherings remains at a maximum of 25 people for all communities, while the limit for outdoor gatherings in private back yards will remain at 50 people for all cities and towns.

“Outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings will have a limit of 50 people in Step I communities, and a limit of 100 people in lower risk, Step II communities,” the statement said.

Also during Tuesday’s briefing, Baker was asked about the criminal indictment, announced last week, filed against Bennet Walsh, former head of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and its former medical director, Dr. David Clinton, on charges stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that killed at least 76 elderly veterans.

Baker said Tuesday that a June report he commissioned from former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein, “raised time and time again, errors and mistakes that had huge consequences” for the veterans housed at the facility.

What happened in Holyoke, Baker added, “was a calamity,” and Pearlstein’s report was “almost impossible to read in one sitting.” In speaking with veterans’ families, Baker said, “it was brought home to me how something that was so good became literally a nightmare.”

And on the broader COVID-19 front, Baker also conceded that the state is asking a lot of the many college students who have returned to campuses in the Boston area and throughout the state under an array of restrictions due to the pandemic.

But those restrictions, Baker said, coupled with many colleges’ partnership with the Broad Institute on testing staff and students, are “part of the world in which we live,” citing parents who testified remotely earlier Tuesday before a state legislative committee on the challenges of remote learning for their children.

“It’s going to be like this until we have treatments and vaccines,” Baker said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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