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Baker pledges continued focus on vaccine equity, stands by moving forward with Mass. reopening

Governor Charlie Baker greeted Margaret Pless-Hunter as she sat in the observation area after getting her COVID-19 vaccination at the Morning Star Baptist Church Vaccination Site on Monday. On right is Bishop John M. Borders of the Morning Star Baptist Church.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that the state is working to ensure communities of color and seniors in vulnerable areas have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and he defended his decision to loosen some pandemic-related restrictions on businesses.

Baker made the comments during a briefing at the Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan, which he said has so far administered over 1,000 vaccines.

“And as supply increases, the site will eventually have the ability to do about 500 shots a day,” Baker said, adding that officials have launched a “targeted initiative” to bring the vaccine to 20 of the hardest hit communities around the state.


Baker insisted the decision to ease certain restrictions was guided by the latest public health data.

“At this point in time, with 1.2 million people in Massachusetts, many of whom are among our most vulnerable citizens and residents, having received their first dose, and 550,000 of those most vulnerable residents having received both doses, and having seen a drop in hospitalizations, positive case counts, and daily case rates generally that have all gone down over the course of the past two months by somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, depending upon which measure you’re talking about, we felt, based on that data, and the success of the vaccine rollout so far, that it was appropriate to make some adjustments,” Baker said.

Baker said that as of Sunday, about 2 million vaccine doses had been shipped to Massachusetts, including about 1.7 million that have been administered, for a rate of 85 percent. He said the state also has vaccinated about 90 percent of its long-term care residents and roughly 70 percent of staff in such facilities, plus about 68 percent of residents aged 75 and older.

Bishop John M. Borders, III, senior pastor of Morningstar Baptist Church, said the vaccination drive at his house of worship has been a boon to the community.


“What we have found here [at Morningstar] is a wonderful partnership between Boston Medical Center, Mattapan Community Health [Center], and Morningstar Baptist Church,” said Bishop John M. Borders III, senior pastor of the church, adding that “we are not just concerned for the spirit of people. We’re also concerned about the healing and health of people’s bodies. ... You can trust this church. You can trust these institutions, and you can trust this vaccination. People are doing well here” after receiving it. “And people are continuing to come. The numbers are rising more and more.”

On a related note, Baker also provided an update on the expected arrival of the state’s first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

“The information on the J&J vaccine at this point in terms of volume is a little bit up in the air,” Baker said. “What I would say is that it is likely that we will get for next week a shipment. Okay? And that shipment will probably be distributed pretty evenly across what we think of as the vaccinating community we have here in Massachusetts.”

On the business restriction front, Baker defended moving forward with the state’s reopening plan today following a chorus of public health experts who chided the governor over the weekend for the decision.

“I’d say, ‘Charlie, you’re making a big mistake,’” said Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology. “Opening up these restaurants is going to prolong the epidemic, and increase the number of Massachusetts residents that die.”


Here’s what’s changing Monday:

  • Indoor performance venues like concert halls, theaters, and other indoor performance spaces are allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, with a limit of 500 people
  • Indoor, higher-contact recreational activities like laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, and obstacle courses are allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity
  • Capacity limits across all sectors have been raised to 50 percent, excluding employees
  • Restaurants do not have a percent capacity limit and are allowed to host musical performances. Measures that impact how many people can be in a restaurant remain in place, including 6 feet of social distancing, 6-people-per-table limits, and 90-minute time limits

In Boston, however, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said last week that the city will delay the reopening of indoor performance spaces and recreational activity venues until March 22.

According to the CDC’s website, Massachusetts has reported 51 cases of the UK variants and two cases of the South African strain as of Sunday.

On Sunday, the state reported 52 new deaths and 1,428 new cases of COVID-19. The latest data released by the Department of Public Health tallied the total number of cases in the state at more than 550,000. The coronavirus death toll in Massachusetts was 15,796 Sunday.

The number of coronavirus vaccinations administered in Massachusetts rose by 65,284 to 1,736,477, state officials reported Sunday.

There are exceptions to the reopening — and Boston is one of those communities. Walsh is delaying moves such as allowing live music in restaurants and permitting indoor performance venues to open until March 22.

The timing of the state reopening coincides with efforts by Baker to bring K-12 students back into their school buildings for in-person learning. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, at the same time, supports an increase in the number of kindergarten to third grade students attending in-person classes in the city’s schools, which starts today.


Somerville will remain in a limited Phase 3, Step 1 stage of the reopening until at least March 15, according to a statement.

RELATED: Boston delays reopening of concert halls, theaters, other indoor businesses

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. John Hilliard can be reached at Travis Andersen can be reached at