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Ayanna Pressley warns Mass. is reopening too quickly, asks Baker to ‘re-evaluate his timeline’

Pressley criticized Governor Charlie Baker’s plan to begin allowing aspects of the state’s economy to restart.

In this image from video, Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington last month. Pressley on Tuesday criticized Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to reopen the state's economy, saying the state was moving too fast at the expense of public safety.
In this image from video, Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington last month. Pressley on Tuesday criticized Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to reopen the state's economy, saying the state was moving too fast at the expense of public safety.Associated Press

Representative Ayanna Pressley criticized Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday, saying his newly released road map moves Massachusetts too quickly toward reopening, amplifying a chorus of liberal displeasure with his plan.

“MA isn’t ready to ‘reopen.’ Policy decisions that offer a false choice between public health & economic recovery will hurt our communities,” the freshman congresswoman from Boston wrote on Twitter. She urged Baker to “re-evaluate his timeline & invest in the supports needed to keep our families safe.”

In a lengthy follow-up statement to The Boston Globe, Pressley said that the pandemic has “forced unenviable choices on all of us," and praised the Baker administration for “open lines of communication.”

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Still, she said the state has not expanded testing nor lowered infection rates enough to move ahead — and doing so now would disproportionately endanger the health of “vulnerable” communities most of all, as well as potentially set back the economic recovery.

On testing, she cited a “roadmap” put out by Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics that recommends testing between 2 percent and 6 percent of the population per day, which translates to a minimum of roughly 137,000 tests a day in the state — a number far beyond the 7,741 new tests reported Tuesday.

Already Massachusetts has one of the best daily per capita testing rates in the country, and the Baker administration is aiming for 45,000 tests a day by the end of July.

“What we have seen throughout this pandemic is that our communities of color and our frontline workers have been devastated by both this relentless virus and by the economic fallout. The most vulnerable have borne the brunt on every front,” said Pressley, whose spokesman said she was not available for an interview Tuesday.

Pressley warned that opening the economy too soon due to pressure to spur economic recovery will again hurt “vulnerable communities disproportionately.”

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She laid out a number of shortcomings she sees in Baker’s plans in further detail, including the need for investments in “safe, local childcare options” for front-line workers headed back to the job, protective gear and supplies for child-care workers, paid family leave so workers stay home when they’re sick, and enhanced unemployment protections.

Like a number of other critics, Pressley said Baker’s reopening plan lacks enforcement mechanisms to protect workers against employers who aren’t following the new safety rules.

Pressley said that she’s spoken to many employers who haven’t been able to locate reliable sources for protective gear for employees and customers. “We need further clarity on how the state will facilitate purchasing and distribution of equipment,” she said.

As of Tuesday, the Baker administration has distributed more than 11 million pieces of protective gear to nursing homes, hospitals, public safety departments, and others. Those distributions, however, do not include retail businesses.

Pressley indicated that she hoped the Baker administration would respond to critics by making adjustments. “I hope that open lines of communication, assumptions of good intent, and the willingness of all of us to move nimbly to save lives and meet the scale of the crisis drives further conversation and next steps on this front,” she said.

The criticisms from Pressley, who represents the most diverse congressional district in the state, which includes part of Boston and several other communities, elevate the concerns of workers and consumers who polling and anecdotal evidence suggest are less eager to resume the rhythms of daily life than business owners and chief executives.

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Baker’s four-phase reopening plan has also drawn flak from those who believe it moves too slowly in lifting restrictions on various businesses. Some North End restaurateurs, for instance, said Tuesday they’re weighing their legal options after Baker didn’t include in-person dining as part of phase one of the reopening plan. Retailers also said they were unhappy that stores won’t be able to welcome customers inside yet.

“The Baker-Polito administration’s reopening plan is governed by public health metrics and the administration made clear that the phased process depends on employers and individuals continuing to fight the virus at all times," said, Lizzy Guyton, a spokeswoman for the administration.

But on the progressive side of the Massachusetts political spectrum, there were echoes of Pressley’s criticism.

“We’ve heard that science will drive decision making, but there’s no science in a Memorial Day weekend reopening. There is simply money to be made,” state Representative Tommy Vitolo, a Democrat from Brookline, said on Twitter.

Representative Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Melrose, was among those who said not enough detail was provided on the what reopening will look like for child care.

“It’s not enough to say we have capacity for those parents who are now being called back to work,” she said in a statement to the Globe. ”Families must be assured that their kids will be returning to healthy classrooms."

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Baker’s four-phase reopening plan offered no new details for child-care centers, which for now can’t open until June 29. However, the emergency child-care programs that opened in March for the children of essential workers will now be open to the children of all those returning to work in the first phase of reopening, according to the Baker administration.

Those emergency child-care programs are operating free of charge to families.

The process Baker put forward Monday allowed places of worship to reopen immediately, with new guidelines along with a recommendation for outside services if possible. Baker’s plan also allowed manufacturing and construction to restart Monday, and essential businesses to keep operating.

By next week, people will be able to get haircuts, again with new restrictions, and outside of Boston some office workers can return, though employers must restrict their capacity to 25 percent of maximum occupancy. In Boston, offices can reopen starting June 1.


Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.