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Governor Orders Nonessential Services to Close or Work Remote

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order on Monday morning for only essential services to continue operating and reduced the 25-person gathering limit to 10.
The move comes just days after Baker said there was no need to follow in the footsteps of neighboring states New York and Connecticut, who issued similar orders.
On Monday morning, Baker said there were a number of factors that led him to take the step.
"We're in constant contact with other governors, other states, federal and local officials, health care experts and a host of other folks," Baker said in a news conference. "After those conversations and reading the guidance put out by the federal government at the end of last week and reviewing some of the orders that have been put in place, we felt it was the right time to do this."
Baker said the growing number of confirmed cases in the commonwealth -- 646 as of Sunday evening with 23 cases in Berkshire County and five deaths statewide -- played a role in his new directive.
"There's no question that if you look at the location of a lot of the positive tests that have come up in the last four or five days, there has been significant spread in every county in Massachusetts, and that's part of the reason for issuing this order today," he said.
Effective noon on Tuesday, March 24, and through noon Tuesday, April 7, all businesses and organizations that do not provide "COVID-19 Essential Services" are required to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public. These businesses are encouraged to continue operations remotely.
Essential services include: 
♦ Health Care and Public Health
♦ Enforcement, Public Safety and First Responders
♦ Food and Agriculture
♦ Critical Manufacturing, Chemical Manufacturing and Hazardous Materials
♦ Transportation and Energy
♦ Water and Wastewater, Public Works
♦ Communications and Information Technology, Financial Services
♦ Construction Workers (including housing construction)
♦ Defense Industry Base
♦ Community-Based Essential Functions and Government Operations
♦ News Media
This list is based on federal guidance and amended to reflect the needs of Massachusetts' unique economy. While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health.
Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order.
Baker emphasized that the commonwealth is not limiting access to grocery stores.
"Part of what we tried to make so clear in this order is that people are not going to be forced to not go to the grocery store," he said. "This is an unimpeded right in Massachusetts. And grocery stores and all the entities that support them are part of our essential business criteria.
"I want to make clear to people that they will not lose under this or any other order access to food or medicine, period."
Restaurants, bars, and other establishments that sell food and beverage products to the public are encouraged to continue to offer food for take-out and by delivery if they follow the social distancing protocols set forth in Department of Public Health guidance. On-premises consumption of food or drink is prohibited.
The Department of Public Health has issued a stay-at-home advisory outlining self-isolation and social distancing protocols. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during this two-week time period. Residents older than 70 years of age or with underlying health conditions, who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19, should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.
The administration says it does not believe Massachusetts residents can be confined to their homes and does not support home confinement for public health reasons.
"What this means is that everyone can still buy food at the grocery store, get what they need at the pharmacy and, of course, take a walk around the block or at the park," Baker said. "But if you're at the park, there shouldn't be pickup basketball games, touch football games or any activities or events that create the person-to-person contact we are seeking to eliminate. That spreads the virus.
"We are asking people to use common sense and consider how they can avoid unnecessary close contact with each other."
The Baker-Polito administration order also limits gatherings to 10 people during the state of emergency, a reduction from the 25-person limit established in an earlier order. 
This includes community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 persons in any confined indoor or outdoor space. The order does not prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people in an outdoor space, like a park or athletic field.
Baker said Monday morning that the state is constantly re-evaluating its orders in response to the spread of the virus and that the April 7 date is, for now, the soonest the non-essential business order could be lifted.
"I fully believe that part of the reason we put end dates on these is to give people an answer with respect to how long it's absolutely, positively guaranteed to last, but at the end, it always says, ‘unless further extended,' " Baker said. "That's because we want to make sure we have the ability, if we need to, to go beyond the time frame listed in them."
As for enforcement, the governor said he expects local authorities to make sure non-essential businesses are closed to the public and keeping employees home. He said there are "graduated penalties" for violating the order, starting with a fine.
The full order, including details about what makes an essential business can be found here.
Baker said he believes businesses can find solutions to maintain productivity through telecommuting.
"Massachusetts is home to companies large and small that lead the world in technological advances in so many areas," he said. "I know that we have the intelligence and capabilities to make this work so we can come through this together and stronger.
"These steps are, of course, difficult to take. The aggressive social distancing measures put in place today are designed to give public health experts the time they need to ramp up additional steps that must be taken to effectively push back the virus."
The governor said he has had numerous conversations with people who have lost their jobs or their businesses since the COVID-19 crisis began and he understands the impact that orders like Monday's can have. He also said he understands the emotional toll on Bay State residents.
"I sense a loss of purpose," Baker said, referencing his virtual visits to two houses of worship over the weekend. "As we all know, purpose is what drives us. Purpose is what fills our souls. Many feel lost, and I can see why.
"Protecting one another from the spread of COVID-19 by limiting physical and social contact and staying at home is profoundly purposeful. Every single act of social distance has purpose. Our first-responders and emergency medical personnel, those essential to our battle against the spread of this disease, need us to do all we can to reduce the spread.
"There is purpose in these drastic changes in the way we live. We must all embrace this new way of life and appreciate that here we can all find purpose as we battle this virus together."
Update: Complete write-thru with added comments from the governor at 12:30 p.m.


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Remote Work May Offer Financial Benefits

Submitted by Edward Jones
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been forced to work from home. But once we've moved past the virus, many workers may continue working from home. More than one-third of companies with employees who started working from home now think that remote work will stay more common post-pandemic, according to a Harvard Business School study. This shift to at-home work can affect people's lives in many ways – and it may end up providing workers with some long-term financial advantages.
If you're one of those who will continue working remotely, either full time or at least a few days a week, how might you benefit? Here are a few possibilities:
  • Reduced transportation costs – Over time, you can spend a lot of money commuting to and from work. The average commuter spends $2,000 to $5,000 per year on transportation costs, including gas, car maintenance, public transportation and other expenses, depending on where they live, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau. If you are going to work primarily from home, you should be able to greatly reduce these costs.
  • Potentially lower car insurance premiums – Your auto insurance premiums are partially based on how many miles you drive each year. So, if you were to significantly reduce these miles by working from home, you might qualify for lower rates.
  • Lower expenditures on lunches – If you typically eat lunch in restaurants or get takeout while at work, you could easily be spending $50 or more per week – even more if you regularly get coffee drinks to go. By these figures, you could end up spending around $3,000 a year. Think how much you could reduce this bill by eating lunch at home during your remote workday.
  • Lower clothing costs – Despite the rise in "casual dress" days, plenty of workers still need to maintain appropriate office attire. By working from home, you can "dress down," reducing your clothing costs and dry-cleaning bills.
As you can see, it may be possible for you to save quite a bit of money by working from home. How can you use your savings to help meet your long-term financial goals, such as achieving a comfortable retirement?
For one thing, you could boost your investments. Let's suppose that you can save $2,500 each year by working remotely. If you were to invest this amount in a tax-deferred account, such as an IRA or your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan and earned a hypothetical 6 percent annual return for 20 years, you'd accumulate more than $97,000 – and if you kept going for an additional 10 years, you'd have nearly $210,000. You'd eventually pay taxes on the amount you withdrew from these accounts (and withdrawals prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% IRS penalty), but you'd still end up pretty far ahead of where you'd be otherwise.)
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