City, Coronavirus, News

Baker indefinitely postpones part two of Phase Three reopening

After an uptick in cases and violations of state guidance, Gov. Charlie Baker is “indefinitely postponing” part two of Phase Three of Massachusetts’ reopening plan.

A new COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team will provide community support and enforcement of the Commonwealth’s health guidelines.

Starting Tuesday, outdoor gathering capacity will be reduced from 100 to 50 people.

From illegal sports camps and private boat charters to a 300-person wedding in Gardner, “some residents feel a bit too relaxed about the seriousness of the virus,” Baker said during Friday’s press briefing.

“Parties that have been held in people’s homes in their backyards have contributed significantly to community spread,” Baker said. “These parties are too big, too crowded and people are simply not being responsible.”

Keeping in line with previous protocol, bars will remain unopened until Phase Four. However, some bars have avoided the phased reopening by serving snacks in order to be considered a restaurant, Baker said.

“We are updating our restaurant guidance to make absolutely clear that alcoholic beverages may only be served for onsite consumption if [a customer] buys food prepared on site,” Baker said. “Bars masquerading as restaurants also need to be closed.”

Snacks like pretzels and potato chips do not meet the food requirement, Baker said, and serving these does not make a bar a restaurant.

Public health violations such as these have contributed to a recent rise in coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, Baker said.

Marylou Sudders, state secretary of Health and Human Services, said the weekly average now is a 2.1-percent positive test rate, a 0.4-percent increase from the Commonwealth’s lowest number. The three-day average number of people in hospitals is 384, an increase of 6 percent since the state’s lowest number.

Residents must be aware of the implications of COVID-19 to ward off the need for another full shutdown in Massachusetts, Baker said.

“We have to work hard always, harder in some respects than ever, to contain COVID-19 and keep our economy open for business,” Baker said. “We also want to keep this virus out of our communities as we head into the fall so we can give our kids a chance to get back to school.”

To combat a slide back into peak pandemic days, Baker said Massachusetts will ramp up enforcement of health guidelines.

“In some respects, we’re entering a new phase in our battle against COVID-19,” Baker said.”

As a part of this “new phase,” Sudders said the COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team will support communities especially struggling with the virus.

The team will help enforce social distancing, mask-wearing, limited gatherings and more, Baker said.

“We cannot only increase the number of people who will be out there and able to enforce these measures,” Baker said, “but also ensure that there are penalties for those who refuse to make the adjustments that so many other people in Massachusetts have made.”

The new team will work to expand the capacity of current testing sites or add new testing sites, Sutters said. It will also increase the availability of public health resources such as contact tracing and quarantine support.

The Stop the Spread Initiative, which currently provides free testing to 17 communities in Massachusetts, will extend its services through Sept. 12 and is prepared to expand to more communities.

“This fight against COVID-19 is far from over,” Baker said. “All of us need to work together to do the things that are proven to be successful in defeating it.”

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