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Boston enters Phase 3 of reopening today. But business owners aren’t expecting a flood of customers

Lifted Fitness co-owners Pat Smith (left) and Mo Davidson are ready to reopen their South Boston gym.
Lifted Fitness co-owners Pat Smith (left) and Mo Davidson are ready to reopen their South Boston gym.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

As Boston restarts more of the city’s economy Monday as part of Phase 3, allowing places like museums, gyms, and theaters to reopen, some officials and business owners on Sunday said they expect it could be months or more before many customers are comfortable resuming their pre-pandemic lives.

Boston, which is following much of Massachusetts in the latest stage of restarting its economy, is also loosening public health restrictions just as large swaths of the nation report surging cases of coronavirus.

And while locals said customers are glad to see them back in business, none are taking the risks posed by the pandemic for granted.

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“People are ready to roll, and get back to a little bit of normalcy,” said Pat Smith, cofounder of Lifted Fitness in South Boston, which reopens Monday. “But only if they know the place they are going is taking the right precautions and being safe about it.”

Kelly Gifford, deputy director for public engagement and planning at the Institute of Contemporary Art, said officials there expect it could take months for many guests to return because of general concerns about the pandemic. The museum reopens Tuesday for members and Thursday for the general public.

“There’s a thought that people will be returning, but they’re not going to be returning as soon as the museum opens,” she said. “That’s good — we are excited to open our doors, but we’re doing it with a lot of caution to ensure the safety of staff and visitors.”

Boston’s Phase 3 comes after the state on Sunday reported the death toll in Massachusetts due to the coronavirus grew by 15 confirmed deaths, reaching 8,110. There were 172 new confirmed cases of the virus, increasing the statewide total to 105,629.

The number of probable-case deaths remained steady at 215 Sunday. There were 27 new probable cases of COVID-19, bringing that total to 5,968.

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Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, speaking to reporters Friday, contrasted the approach Boston and the state have followed in reopening with steps taken in other parts of the country that are seeing infections surge.

“Those highs are because the residents and the people there didn’t take the precautions that we have in Boston and Massachusetts,” Walsh said.

By Sunday, Florida had broken a national record; it reported more than 15,000 new confirmed coronavirus daily cases, bringing the total to nearly 270,000.

Dr. C. Robert Horsburgh Jr., a Boston University professor of epidemiology, said Massachusetts has opened up reasonably slowly and has not seen a rise in cases like those seen in other parts of the country.

But he is concerned about the possibility people will begin to relax their guard.

”I have real concern that if you start to have people have large events, and get together, and they don’t wear masks, then there will be an uptick in cases, and that will be a sign that we’ve gone too far, too fast,” Horsburgh said.

But what could curb any complacency is the growing death toll.

In Massachusetts, thousands have died, and those who have experienced tragedy firsthand take the virus seriously, he said.

”There are enough people out there who know somebody who has either gotten very ill or has died,” Horsburgh said. “People are appropriately concerned.”

In Massachusetts, Boston was not the only municipality to postpone Phase 3. In Somerville, Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who has criticized the speed of the state’s reopening, will begin Phase 3 on July 20, after originally having joined Boston in delaying it to Monday.

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

For most of the state, Phase 3 began July 6. As part of the latest phase in Boston, the city will issue permits for outdoor events on city property and for sporting events for low- and moderate-contact amateur sports like baseball, with limits on the number of participants.

Professional sports are also included in Phase 3, and the Red Sox have said their first game at Fenway Park will be July 24.

Boston, home to some of the state’s largest institutions, delayed the latest stage of reopening so the city would have more time to prepare for the changes.

At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Gifford said the museum, which closed in March, began planning its reopening in April. That included coordinating with other local museums, as well as reaching out to museums in states that had reopened sooner.

The ICA and the Boston Children’s Museum are asking visitors to reserve tickets in advance through the museums’ websites and follow guidelines like wearing masks and keeping guests and staff apart. They will also limit capacity to avoid crowding.

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Carole Charnow, chief executive of the Boston Children’s Museum, expects a much different summer. Normally, the are upward of 60,000 visitors a month in July and August.

This summer, the expectation is for 6,000 to 7,000 a month, she said. Reopening has focused, she said, on protecting health and supporting the museum’s role in the community.

“The hope is that, by opening, we can provide relief and some sort of comfort to parents and families,” Charnow said. “Our entire mission is about the health and wellness and well-being of children and families. So that is, by far, the very top priority.”

The museum reopens to members on Friday, while the general public can visit starting July 22.

Some exhibits have been closed because it would be difficult to maintain social distancing; some hands-on activities have been reconfigured so the museum is continually replacing balls and other exhibit objects for more cleaning, she said.

“It all becomes about safety,” Charnow said.

Yet Phase 3in Boston will not mark a return to life before the coronavirus.

At Lifted Fitness in South Boston, where the gym Smith cofounded has operated on Summer Street since 2015, he said he and other staff were in the midst of opening a second space nearby when the economy shut down in March.

They transitioned quickly, offering free virtual classes on Instagram, and as guidelines on reopening were released they took steps to ensure people followed health rules, he said. They’re ready to reopen and are preparing the second location, which is due to open next month.

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Most of the gym’s members have said they feel safe coming back, Smith said, but about a quarter aren’t ready to return. “Everyone feels differently about this thing,” he said.

With gyms, especially, it’s likely to take months for some people to feel comfortable going back, said Rob Shapiro, founder of Bodyscapes Fitness, which has locations across Greater Boston, including on Avenue Louis Pasteur a site that reopens Monday.

“The demand to participate is back at fitness centers, but the nervousness is ever-present and there right now,” Shapiro said. “It’s going to be a slow rebound.”





Travis Andersen, Martin Finucane, and Kay Lazar of the Globe staff and correspondent Diti Kohli contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.