|State Officials Caution May 18 Not 'Magical' Reopening Date|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff |
03:54PM / Monday, May 04, 2020
|Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, heading up the reopening task force, says a plan will be released May 18 for a phased opening. The task force has been speaking with businesses and organizations on how they can safely restart the economy. |
BOSTON — State officials on Monday stressed that May 18 is not a "magical date" for reopening the commonwealth.
Rather, the restart of economic activity will be a phased effort based on recommendations from an advisory board announced last week and public health experts.
"There seems to be some with an understanding that May 18 is a magical date," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at Monday's daily COVID-19 update. "May 18 is the date that we have said the report of this advisory board will be released."
Gov. Charlie Baker last week extended the stay-home order until May 18 as cases of the novel coronavirus continued to climb. He said guidance from experts and the federal government has been that there needs to be a downward trend in key indicators associated with the novel coronavirus.
"We're number three basically behind a New York in terms of — and New Jersey — in terms of both cases and deaths," the governor said on Monday. "And for states that literally don't have and haven't had a significant penetration with respect to COVID, for whatever reason, got a different timetable than we do."
Polito is heading up the reopening task force with representatives from business, cultural and health organizations.
"We've asked them to present to us around their readiness, and given the particular nature of their work," she said. "Some have a readiness level that is different. We've asked them to talk about the barriers in terms of how do they make their workplace safer. ... What are some of the key enablers that they know are important for their workforce to be able to even return to work."
The group has so far heard and met virtually with stakeholders in 23 different industry associations representing more than 100,000 businesses and more than 1.4 million workers. Baker said there has been an emphasize on the guidance and information they need to safely reopen.
"What that means is that only sectors of the economy that can implement the appropriate health guidance will be opening in the first phase," the governor said. "There won't be anyone firing a starting gun on May 18 and saying everybody's off to the races.
"But we do hope that certain types of businesses and workplaces will be able to begin resuming operations, under the guidelines established through this process."
There have been indications of downward trends in some parts of the state. The rate of new infections has been below 20 percent even as testing capacity has increased. More than 300,000 patients have been hospitalized for COVID-19 related issues to date but the number of hospitalizations has begun to trend in the right direction, Baker said.
"It's also important to note that different parts of Massachusetts are in different stages," he said. "For example, COVID hospitalizations and ICU bed days related to COVID have gone down in Western Mass, and on the Cape, but remain high in Worcester and on the south coast, and flat in Boston."
In reference to a question about a protest calling for reopening being held in front of the State House that afternoon, the governor said the strategy pursued by the state has been consistent with that of other regions that had been successful in containing the coronavirus to the point they could plan for safely reopening.
He acknowledged the economic strain and pointed to the efforts in cranking up the unemployment insurance system to a volume it had not been prepared for. But, he said, restarting a lot of nonessential businesses too early would have the potential for reigniting the pandemic within the Bay State.
The governor also seemed to dismiss the idea that parts of the state seeing significant downward trends would be able to open sooner than other regions.
"I don't think it makes a lot of sense in a state that's as small as ours, where people can move around, to think about any of this stuff on anything other than a statewide basis," he said. "I don't want to take a place that seems to be making progress and create a problem for it."