Governor Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that schools across Massachusetts will remain closed at least until early May, one of several new measures he is taking in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that so far has infected more than 1,800 Massachusetts residents and killed 15.
The new policies also include restrictions and guidance affecting housing and operations at grocery stores and pharmacies, as most other retail outlets remain shuttered officials scramble to slow the pandemic’s growth.
Baker’s order closes both public and private schools until May 4, one week past the end of April vacation in most Massachusetts districts, as well as non-emergency child care programs.
While schools are closed, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education encourages educators to continue developing and delivering lessons through the end of April, using both online tools and assigned activities that can be completed outdoors while following social distancing guidelines.
The state Department of Housing & Community Development is working to temporarily block terminations of federal and state rental vouchers under its purview and is recommending that owners of low-income housing receiving state aid suspend nonessential evictions.
The department also will receive $5 million from MassHousing, the agency charged with providing financing for affordable housing in the state, for a COVID-19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition fund to help families struggling to pay rent.
The state Division of Banks is urging financial institutions and lenders to give borrowers some leeway during the crisis and will ask mortgage holders to grant 60-day stays to homeowners facing imminent foreclosure.
The state is also asking operators of affordable housing not to evict tenants who can’t pay rent because of a loss of income.
Grocery stores and pharmacies
The state Department of Public Health also issued a new order requiring stores to set aside at least an hour a day for shoppers above age 60, who are at greater risk of having serious complications from the virus.
It also requires stores to close self-service food stations, provide hygienic materials such as hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to help keep surfaces clean, and to enforce social distancing behaviors. Stores are told to have sick employees stay home and to provide alternative assignments to workers in high-risk categories.