Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday defended the raft of new restrictions he rolled out the day before that ordered some businesses to close by 9:30 p.m., urged people to stay home at night, and clamped down on private gatherings amid rising COVID-19 levels in Massachusetts.
“COVID has come with all kinds of difficult decisions, difficulties — and, in many cases, tragedies — for virtually everybody,” Baker said Tuesday during a State House news conference. “One of the things that’s critical to us is that schools stay open, and that businesses continue to be able to operate.”
In that context, Baker said, given “all of the feedback we’ve gotten from so many folks in local government ... about the amount of activity that takes place that’s not regulated, that’s mostly going on in private residences late into the night, we felt it was important to send a message that people after 10 o’clock at night should be home with the people that they spend every day with, and to do what we can to limit the spread of COVID.”
The virus, Baker said, “for the most part at this point is moving through informal channels and informal arrangements and casual engagements between people who for the most part know each other. And the reason that’s so important now is because of that, our letting our guard down, we have a 300 percent increase in daily positive case rates since Labor Day ... and a lot of concern in our health care and hospital community about what this trend will mean if it keeps running for another eight to 10 weeks."
Baker said he understands the new restrictions are disruptive, especially for sectors such as the restaurant and recreation industries.
“But better to do something targeted now,” Baker said. “Send a message about how important it is for people to stop gathering in big groups ... [and] basically encourage people, strongly, to be home with the people they spend every day with by 10 o’clock at night and see if we can’t do something to bend what is a very disturbing trend that if we just let run, will have real consequences for our healthcare system and ultimately for the rest of our economy as well. We’ll see what the data looks like in a month, but our hope is that it will look better.”
On Monday, Baker also tightened the state’s face-covering mandate, requiring anyone over 5 years old to wear a mask in public regardless of their distance from others.
The changes, which take effect Friday, were less stringent than some business owners had feared. But epidemiologists said the measures, while an important step toward communicating the pandemic’s severity, likely do not go far enough to turn back the state’s rising tide of infections.
Restaurants will have to halt table service at 9:30 p.m. each day, and facilities such as gyms, theaters, and casinos will have to close by the same time. Baker also said he’s restricting private indoor gatherings to 10 people.
The Department of Public Health is instituting a new stay-at-home advisory — though not a formal curfew — that urges the public to be at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for necessary activities, such as going to work, school, or the grocery store.
“They now have the ability to say, ‘there’s a gathering rule ... max of 10,′ ” Baker said Tuesday, referencing to municipal authorities. “ ‘and you guys and gals really need to be home by 10.’ So it gives them for the first time a vehicle that they can use to just tell people that it’s time to go home.”
Baker also implored residents to continue wearing face coverings.
“I can’t express how important it is for all of us to execute on what I would call proper mask etiquette,” Baker said. “The simple truth is here, the CDC has said this, Dr. Fauci has said this, many other folks in the epidemiological community have said this.”
Then the governor lifted up his mask.
“If people would just wear these things religiously for 30 days, we could kill the virus,” Baker said. “Religiously wear them for 30 days. The virus can’t survive unless it can jump from me to you to you to you to you to you to you. It’s got a shelf-life in each individual. And the way it survives is by jumping from one person to the next.”
But if two people are masked up, Baker continued, “the ability that virus has to transmit from one person to another is profoundly small.”
He added, “If we would just commit to being disciplined, vigilant and consistent about it ... we wouldn’t be talking about what we need to do with respect to gatherings generally.”
Part of it comes down to “personal responsibility,” Baker said.
“And if everybody in Massachusetts, everybody, commits to this, we’re all going to have one heck of a holiday season,” Baker said. “And I would love to see that happen.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.