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Baker Lifts Stay-at-Home Order, Business Curfew

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced that the commonwealth will start to ease up on some of its COVID-19 restrictions on business starting Monday in response to positive trends in the public health metrics.
 
Effective Monday at 5 a.m., the state is lifting an overnight stay-at-home advisory that was put in place in early November and allowing certain businesses to again remain open past 9:30 p.m.
 
"We are keeping in place the across-the-board 25 percent capacity limits for at least another two weeks, until 5 a.m. on Feb. 8," Baker said.
 
But ending the "curfew" and early closure for businesses like restaurants and movie theaters is possible because the state's key COVID-19 indicators are improving, Baker said.
 
"Three weeks into 2021, our public health data is trending in a better direction for some categories, like hospitalizations and the percent of positive tests, for the first time in a long time," he said. "Hospitalizations are down by 10 percent since they peaked in early January. Today, we have 2,209 individuals in the hospital [for COVID-19], which is down from 2,428 on Jan. 4.
 
"The average positive test rate for COVID-19 has gone down by 33 percent since the beginning of January, from 8.7 percent to 5.8 percent. The seven-day average of cases is also down, by about 30 percent from its peak in January, from 6,120 down to 4,548."
 
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chairs the governor's reopening committee, said the time has come to begin carefully lifting some restrictions.
 
"Businesses previously required to close early may operate past 9:30 p.m., effective Jan. 25 at 5 a.m.," Polito said. "That includes, as a few examples: restaurants, arcades and other indoor and outdoor recreation in Phase 3, Step 1 only; indoor and outdoor events and other gatherings, movie theaters and other recreational experiences; casinos and horse track simulcast facilities; driving and flight schools; close contact personal services like hair and nail salons; museums and gyms."
 
Polito said the full list of businesses will be posted at mass.gov.
 
She commended the business community throughout the state for its efforts to meet the state's safety guidelines throughout the pandemic, particularly singling out restaurants for developing new outdoor and patio spaces and creative takeout options.
 
The administration Thursday also continued to emphasize the small-business grants that it has distributed to support small businesses during the pandemic.
 
"Small businesses account for over 40 percent of the commonwealth's prepandemic workforce," Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy said. "In real numbers, that's the equivalent of about 1.5 million employees, distributed throughout the state. It's that workforce, who operates in an extensive network of small businesses, that is fundamental to the health of the Massachusetts economy.
 
"Understanding how much pressure the pandemic has put on these businesses … it remains a top priority for us to provide relief with an urgency that this situation calls for."
 
To date, the commonwealth has distributed $232 million small business grants from a fund of a $720 million the administration has dedicated to that purpose, Baker said.
 
"COVID-19 has emerged to be the most remarkable and damaging global pandemic in our lifetime," he said. "Every resident has been affected by this merciless virus that respects no boundaries and, in some cases, can be, sadly, deadly.
 
"Our administration has and will continue to work hard to stop COVID-19 spread, to administer vaccines and to get our economy back on track. Today, there are some glimmers of hope as some public health trends show some retreat businesses can get some financial relief and resume activity. But there are still many challenges ahead for us, and the best weapon we continue to have is prevention, patience and vigilance."
 
He praised Bay Staters for the vigilance they showed in December, which appears to have paid off in preventing a surge in COVID-19 cases on the level that the commonwealth saw in the aftermath of Thanksgiving.
 
"People took to heart our messaging around Christmas and New Year's," Baker said. "We continued to see some of the momentum that came out of Thanksgiving, but we did not see anything like the sustained and dramatic spike we saw in new cases every day and hospitalizations every day that we saw coming out of Thanksgiving.
 
"It's hard to draw really specific conclusions about some of this stuff, but it does appear to us that people were really careful and cautious through that whole Christmas and New Year's period, which is a really good thing. I know it stinks with respect to how you would like to spend that holiday, but here we are, it's three weeks later, and over that time, we've seen a 30 percent drop in case positivity, a 30 percent drop in new cases and a 10 percent drop in hospitalizations.
 
"It's the first time we saw a drop in those cases for quite a while."

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Williamstown Trust OKs Emergency Mortgage Program; O'Connor Won't Seek Re-Election

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday decided to move ahead with an emergency mortgage assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a solution for a problem vexing a different town committee and learned that one of its members will be rotating off after May's town election.
 
The board member in question is Anne O'Connor, who made her colleagues on that panel the first to learn that she will not seek another three-year term on the Select Board this spring.
 
O'Connor, who occupies the trustee position designated for a member of the Select Board, noted that she brings a particular perspective to her work with the trust and all her town service: that of a resident who is a lifelong renter and who lives in Williamstown housing that was created to be affordable.
 
"Hopefully, I've also brought some reflections and useful comments as much as possible," O'Connor said.
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