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Health experts urge Governor Baker to delay Monday reopenings

A coalition of public health professionals issued an open letter to Governor Charlie Baker Thursday urging him to delay increasing indoor capacity limits at certain businesses, a change currently slated to take effect Monday in Massachusetts.

“We implore you to prevent more avoidable illness and loss of life by delaying any changes related to indoor venues as part of Step 1, Phase IV of the state’s reopening plan for a minimum of four weeks,” said the letter from the Massachusetts Public Health Association and members of the the Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity.

Step 1, Phase IV, the letter continued, “includes an increase in the gathering limits for indoor venues to 100 people, opening of dance floors at indoor events, opening of overnight camps, and opening of exhibition and convention halls.”

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The letter said more time’s needed “before loosening these restrictions to allow more residents to be vaccinated, provide an opportunity for the state to reduce vaccine inequities that create increased risk in communities of color and among essential workers, provide schools the opportunity to reopen safely, and give the state adequate time to assess the threats posed by more infectious COVID-19 variants.”

The Baker administration, in earlier statement Thursday, said the public health data is guiding the decisions on reopening.

“The Administration continues to take steps to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy with public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction,” Baker’s office said. “This includes drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations. Massachusetts also continues to be a national leader in vaccination rates.”

Effective Monday, Baker’s office said, large capacity sports and entertainment venues will be allowed to open at a strict 12 percent capacity limit after submitting a plan to the state Department of Public Health.

Gathering limits will also be affected by the change.

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The statement said limits “for event venues and in public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.”

On March 1, officials said, Massachusetts loosened capacity restrictions for several industries and since then, hospitalizations have fallen by 20 percent and deaths dropped by 24 percent.

“The seven day average of new cases in long-term care facilities dropped by 53 [percent],” Baker’s office said. “The positive test rate remains below 2 [percent] and has been for several weeks now. The seven day average of new cases is also down over this time by 7 [percent]. The positive test rate remains below 2 [percent] and has been for several weeks now. The seven day average of new cases is also down over this time by 7 [percent].”

But in their open letter Thursday, the public health professionals said more caution is needed.

“Delaying further reopening of indoor venues by a minimum of four weeks will allow the state time to better assess these threats and make appropriate decisions at that time,” the letter said. “Moving forward now in the face of these threats to our recovery - threats that will be disproportionately borne by workers, schools, and communities of color -- is unwise and unacceptably dangerous.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.