After a three-month shutdown that brought much of routine daily life to a halt, some semblance of normalcy resumes Monday when the second phase of recovery from the coronavirus in Massachusetts will allow customers to shop inside stores, restaurants to serve diners outdoors, and youths to venture out to playgrounds and sports programs.
Governor Charlie Baker, who outlined the latest stage of the reopening at the State House on Saturday, said he felt comfortable moving forward because the number of new cases and hospitalizations in Massachusetts continues on a downward trajectory.
The move cheered many business owners, who are anxious to start returning to the world they knew before March 10 — when Baker declared a state of emergency.
“All of our employees, family, and friends were texting one another,” said Mark Hourihan, who owns Paradise Family Golf in Middleton, which will open its driving range, mini-golf course, retail shop, and ice cream and snack parlor. “We are thrilled.”
In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s announcement, Baker had been pulled in different directions: Business advocates said he moved too slowly in restarting the state economy, while some public health experts worried he was moving too quickly to ease restrictions that are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Even with a reopening, the coronavirus continues to be a threat: On Saturday, the state reported 55 new deaths from COVID-19 and 575 new cases, as overall numbers continue to trend downward.
The seven-day average for the state’s positive COVID-19 tests rate has declined by 82 percent since mid-April, officials said Saturday. The three-day average of hospitalized patients has dropped by 55 percent, and the number of hospitals experiencing a surge of infected patients is down by 76 percent.
Public health officials have cautioned that a stray cough in the wrong place could spark another outbreak that might send people back into their homes for weeks or months. On Saturday, Baker faced renewed concerns about the risk of reopening.
State Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, said not enough has been done to ensure at-risk populations, including people of color, are adequately protected during the reopening. He’s also disappointed Baker has not signed legislation to require more data collection and more data reporting on COVID-19, according to a statement.
Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said Baker ignored basic standards in the reopening, such as not collecting enough data on at-risk populations, raising the prospect of the disease spreading again.
The governor Saturday said the state is strategizing with specialists to ensure that won’t happen. He asked residents who have been working from home to continue doing so, despite allowing offices to reopen in most of the state in May.
“We’ve been very successful over the past 120 days in significantly reducing the amount of COVID we’ve had here in the Commonwealth,” he said. “And we did that by following the guidance and advice from our colleagues in public health and the medical community."
When Phase 2 kicks off Monday, life will still be far from the old normal. State officials have labeled the upcoming stage as “Cautious” — so measures like social distancing in many cases will remain in place.
For businesses such as restaurants and retailers, there will be limits on the number of customers they can serve; restaurants can do only outdoor dining to start; hotels can have guests, though with a long list of restrictions; day camps and child care facilities can also reopen after meeting rules for keeping people safe.
Jerry Reilly, 64, of Newton, expressed “great relief” that more restrictions on daily life were being loosened with Phase 2. Reilly and his family have camped for 30 years at the Wellfleet Hollow campground on Cape Cod — and when the pandemic struck, he wasn’t sure they would be able to continue that tradition of a weeklong trip this year, he said.
Instead, he found out Saturday that the camp would be taking reservations from campers.
“Camping at the beach has been part of our lives so many, many years. This is a big step back to something that feels like normality,” he said.
Not all outdoor activities will restart right away. Michael Borislow, executive director of the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association, the governing body of local soccer programs across the state, said the organization plans to resume soccer clinics June 15.
Officials will use the time before then to offer webinars and educational materials to prepare coaches, parents, and other officials, he said.
“Everything we are developing is to err on the side of caution, and slowly break all of our members into soccer activities over time,” Borislow said. “We understand for Phase 2, the restrictions are present, but at the same time we embrace them.”
Businesses have been waiting a long time for this day. Jon B. Hurst, president of the statewide retailers association, has been frustrated at how much longer Massachusetts took to let stores open than other states. And, Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, urged Baker to accelerate the reopening of other businesses.
“As the nation is now seeing job growth, it is vital that Massachusetts move as quickly as possible to reopen the remainder of business types that are relegated to later phases,” Carlozzi said in a statement. “Massachusetts’ economic recovery is contingent upon thriving small businesses.”
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said he’s glad restaurants finally have a date for reopen. However, he does not expect all of the state’s 16,000 restaurants to reopen on Monday, as many don’t have outdoor dining space.
“We have some cities and towns that have gone out of their way to get restaurants creative seating capabilities, but sadly we have some cities and towns that have reacted very slowly or not at all,” Luz said.
One of those restaurateurs is David Lopez, who owns El Mariachi in Taunton. His place doesn’t have a patio, and there are not many restaurants in Taunton with outdoor seating, Lopez said.
The family-owned Mexican restaurant has been fulfilling orders for curbside pickup, but Lopez said the restaurant is barely surviving.
“Everybody else is open … all the other states are open,” he said. “Everybody from Massachusetts is just going to Rhode Island — people call every day thinking we are going to reopen Monday.”
For Brad Fredericks, the owner of the Back Deck restaurant in Downtown Crossing, planning for reopening meant getting bodies in seats. Even if they’re fake.
Fredericks had seen pictures of bars and restaurants in Europe deploying mannequins to help fill seats and encourage social distancing measures, and reached out to the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District to see if it knew where to find some. The BID located a stash in the Forever 21 building down the street. Now Fredericks has about 30 mannequins stationed in three of his restaurants, clad in wigs and clothes.
But even with those extra bodies on hand, he’s not sure what day he will reopen.
“You can’t announce on Saturday and have us open on Monday," he said, noting that he didn’t want to bring food into the restaurant until he knew for sure that he had the go-ahead. "We’ve donated and thrown enough food away the first go-around,” he said.
In Middleton, Paradise Family Golf has taken steps to protect staff and customers, separating driving range stalls by 12 feet, building an outdoor sink where customers can wash their hands, and installing a contact-free payment system. Social distancing between groups on the mini-golf course will be enforced by an employee in a newly created sanitization position. And since food is to-go only, no more ice cream cones for the time being.
“I was concerned that we were going to do all of this stuff, and there wasn’t going to be a demand,” he said. “But based on the way our phone has been ringing for the past few days to find out the update on Phase 2 opening … we are optimistic.”
Kathy Smith, who manages Blue Dry Goods, a men’s clothing shop in Concord, said customers are excited about the reopening on Monday.
“A guy just came by today and said he would come in next week as soon as we open,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people cleaned out their closets and want to start fresh.”
Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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