City, Coronavirus

How Massachusetts is maintaining public safety mid-pandemic

Massachusetts is among the hardest-hit states in the country for COVID-19. But after a slew of detailed precautionary and recovery measures, the state has been commended for having one of the best responses to the coronavirus crisis. Here’s how government officials are working to maintain health and safety.

A face mask inside of a store on Harvard Avenue in Allston. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Phase Reopenings
Gov. Charlie Baker outlined the process of reopening Massachusetts in four phases.

May 18 marked the tentative end of the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, which transitioned into a safer-at-home advisory.

Phase One, “Start,” began May 18 and reopened manufacturing and construction sites as well as houses of worship. On May 25, personal service providers such as barber shops and hair salons were also able to reopen under strict safety guidance.

Phase Two, “Cautious,” saw the reopening of retail stores, child care, lodging, youth sports and outdoor seating at restaurants. Massachusetts entered this phase June 8, which was the earliest possible date to enter the next phase after Phase One.

Later in Phase Two, indoor dining and close-contact personal services like nail, massage and tanning salons will also reopen.

Phase Three, “Vigilant,” reopens — with possible capacity limitations and restrictions — casinos, gyms and museums. The earliest Phase Three can begin is June 29.

Phase Four, “New Normal,” will not occur until a cure, vaccine or therapy has been created for COVID-19. Once this final phase is in place, all businesses — including nightclubs, dance clubs, large venues and bars — can resume activity.

Despite the return of large venues come Phase Four, maintenance of social distancing practices, when possible, is still advised, according to the state’s reopening plan.

Each phase is set to last a minimum of three weeks, but there is no guarantee that the plan will proceed according to the best case scenario. If public health data trends are negative, Massachusetts will need to return to an earlier phase of the plan to ensure public safety.

Though different businesses, progressing from most to least essential, are set to reopen during each phase of the plan, normal operations have been and will be modified to adapt to the reality of the ongoing pandemic.

These modifications differ according to the type of business. The state has been assisting its industries with creating sector-specific protocols for implementation during reopening.

Those who are deemed “high-risk” are advised to stay home as much as possible throughout all phases.

Massachusetts residents are required to wear masks in public whenever they cannot keep six feet of distance from others. Additionally, all are advised to continue to socially distance as much as possible, practice cleanliness, be vigilant for symptoms of illness and stay home when ill.

The penalty for not wearing a mask in a public space where it is not possible to social distance is a $300 fine. However, masks may not be required in some situations if it is possible to social distance, such as during outdoor exercise.

People with certain medical conditions, such as respiratory disorders, are exempt from wearing masks.

Acceptable face coverings range from surgical and dust masks to scarves and bandanas. The state recommends washable face coverings that can be reused.

Currently, masks can be bought in stores and online, and instructions for hand-making cloth masks are available on the Centers for Disease Control website. These tutorials include both sew and no sew instructions for masks.

As of early June, Massachusetts has conducted more than 630,000 COVID-19 tests and opened about 250 testing centers across the state, according to Baker.

Current testing prioritizes symptomatic individuals as well as those in high-risk congregate settings such as nursing facilities and residential group homes.

The state’s strategy, according to its reopening plan, is to continually increase testing capacity and trace close contacts of the infected — all of whom should be quarantined to decrease the possibility of transmission.

Masks are now required to ride public transit in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority frequently disinfects transit cars and stations as a preventative measure on its end.

In Boston, the Red, Orange, Blue and Green lines will resume their normal schedules of operation by Phase Three.

The Commuter Rail and buses, however, will most likely reopen with new guidelines and restrictions to limit crowding.

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