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Somerville delays Phase 3 reopening another week

A dog named Hunter enjoys a dairy free treat while visiting J.P. Licks in Davis Square with his family (left to right) Tim and Jill Letteney and their daughter, Quinn, 6, in Somerville Saturday.
A dog named Hunter enjoys a dairy free treat while visiting J.P. Licks in Davis Square with his family (left to right) Tim and Jill Letteney and their daughter, Quinn, 6, in Somerville Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

SOMERVILLE — Just days before the city was expected to allow gyms and movie theaters to reopen, Somerville officials delayed Phase 3 another week to July 20 in an exercise of caution.

The decision, announced Friday, will make Somerville one of the last places to step into the third stage — two weeks after most other Massachusetts towns introduced access to more indoor destinations. Somerville originally followed Boston in pushing Phase 3 to July 13, before the decision to delay even further. Boston will open Monday as planned.

State guidelines in Phase 3 loosen the stringent capacity limits on outdoor gatherings and allow larger venues, like museums, casinos, gyms, and theaters, to open their doors. The new phase also lifts restrictions on more health care programs — adult day health and substance abuse services, for example — than those listed in Phase 2.

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Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the state should focus on maintaining public health and reopening schools before inviting crowds indoors.

“Opening indoor spaces like theaters and event halls without proper limits and precautions could put us at risk of a new COVID spike that could cost lives, crash our economy again, and jeopardize our ability to safely reopen schools in the fall,” he said in an e-mail to the Globe Saturday. “So in Somerville, we are working with our local businesses to develop enhanced safety measures that go beyond state requirements to better ensure we get it right. Our kids need to be able to return to school and parents need to be able to return to work. We are not going to let a rushed approach to this phase endanger that.”

Curtatone also cautioned in a tweet Friday that the state should take measures to prevent a resurgence.

“Our statewide response has a cool code name,” he wrote, “but it lacks the true vigilance needed to make sure #COVID19 does not experience a resurgence in Massachusetts.”

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The Somerville Theatre in Davis Square remains closed on Saturday.
The Somerville Theatre in Davis Square remains closed on Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said on July 2 that the state is moving forward into Phase 3 because it’s “clear that Massachusetts is effectively bringing the fight to the virus.” Baker’s office did not respond to requests Saturday for comment about the delayed reopening.

Phase 3 will begin amid lower but still-growing case numbers in the state.

On Saturday, the Department of Public Health reported 14 new confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus in Massachusetts, bringing the statewide total to 8,095 dead. The state’s probable-case deaths due to coronavirus remained at 215. Confirmed cases of the disease statewide also grew by 167, and brought the statewide total to 105,457, according to health department data.

One key metric watched by health officials — the state’s seven-day average positive rate for those molecular tests — was 1.8 percent Saturday, the state reported. Since June 29, that average figure had fluctuated between 1.7 and 1.9 percent, according to the state.

Somerville residents and visitors expressed mixed reactions to Curtatone’s conservative approach.

Chloe Deveney and Ethan Arnold share a laugh in Davis Square in Somerville on Saturday. Arnold said he is looking forward to going back to his gym when it reopens.
Chloe Deveney and Ethan Arnold share a laugh in Davis Square in Somerville on Saturday. Arnold said he is looking forward to going back to his gym when it reopens.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“I understand the mayor doesn’t want people to have ammunition to blame him and say his decisions caused a spike in cases,” said longtime resident Marc Mancuso, 51. “But this is also just going to annoy businesses. It’s like if there’s a child on a tricycle and all his friends are told they can take the training wheels off, but he has to keep them on for two more weeks. What are the consequences of that?”

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One family, relaxing at a picnic table in Davis Square with a golden retriever in tow, said holding off on the opening is better for the community.

“It’s smart for Somerville to do what’s most responsible,” said city residents Jill and Tim Letteney.

But the city’s ongoing measures appeared to have little effect Saturday on many residents’ enthusiasm for being out and about in Davis Square. The spot overflowed with children eating J.P Licks ice cream, people sitting outside cafes and eateries, shoppers bustling in and out of the CVS, and dog walkers taking advantage of the hot, sunny weather.

The historic Somerville Theatre remained dark though, sporting a sign that read “Stay home and be safe. We will reopen soon.” Director of operations Ian Judge said the theater will remain closed despite the beginning of Phase 3.

“As it stands, the city’s actions do not currently impact us directly because the statewide restrictions already in place — no indoor food sales and a cap of 25 people per auditorium — make reopening financially unfeasible to begin with,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Two doors down, the Boston Sports Club was void of gym-goers.

Jeff Butterworth, owner of Rx Strength Training in East Somerville, said the extended restrictions for gyms are a small price to pay to keep residents safe. He has continued to host virtual training in lieu of his regular offerings.

“While we would totally love to be open and serve our customers, if we could potentially put more safeguards in place and keep everyone that much more protected from the potential threat of the virus, I am for it,” he said. “I’d much rather mitigate any loss of life.”

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Butterworth said he plans to reopen on July 20 for one-on-one sessions that would require reservations.

Tufts University senior Ethan Arnold, 22, said a week-long extension is negligible when the community has already waited four months for normalcy to return. He is, however, excited to return to the gym.

“If there’s a gym open next Monday, that’s the first place I’ll go,” he said.

Other residents questioned what limiting business in Somerville, but not in neighboring cities, does to restrict the virus.

“If Somerville’s one of the only ones delayed the next phase, I’m not sure how effective that will be in driving down transmission,” said Jimmy Kacius, a Malden resident who lounged with a friend in the square Saturday afternoon. “Everyone could easily just drive to Malden or Boston or any other area.”

John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_