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State Raises Occupancy Levels for Restaurants, Personal Services

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Occupancy levels for restaurants will be raised to 40 percent beginning Monday, Feb. 8, but informal gathering limits will remain in place for now.
 
The stay-at-home advisory and early closures regulation was lifted two weeks ago as cases and hospitalizations had trended downward. Gov. Charlie Baker said the restrictions put in place over the past couple months had helped to reduce the spike in cases seen over the holiday season.
 
"Since the start of 2021, the commonwealth has seen positive trends emerge as hospitalizations have decreased, and the percent of positive cases has declined at a steady rate, the same time our administration has continued to ramp up testing statewide," said Baker at his daily briefing on Thursday. "Here, today, we continue to see the same trends that we saw in the previous two weeks."
 
Hospitalizations are down by a third and the seven-day average of cases is down by about 53 percent since its peak at 6,120. 
 
Because of this, all businesses that are currently limited to 25 percent capacity will be able to go to 40 percent capacity. Sector specific rules for restaurants and close-contact personal services are included in this 40 percent capacity requirement. Employees are not included in the capacity requirements. 
 
Some examples include gyms and health clubs, libraries, museums, retail, offices, places of worship, and movie theaters, but with no more than 50 people per theater. 
 
All other safety guidelines remain in place for all industries, and this includes restaurants limiting dining to 90 minutes and no more than six people at a table.
 
"The commonwealth overall will remain in Phase 3, Step 1 of our reopening plan, meaning indoor performance venues and indoor recreational businesses will be closed until the public health data further shows sustained improvement," said Baker, and that includes the gathering limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. 
 
The governor noted that the decline from the recent surge was much more dramatic and speculated that  it could have residents being more careful over the Christmas holiday after seeing the surge over Thanksgiving. 
 
"I think the decisions we made with respect to the protocols and the restrictions, certainly played a role in it but again I also think this stuff only works if the people in Massachusetts much more broadly than that choose to take that into account when they make their own decisions," he said, pointing out how public health officials had stressed that gatherings amplified spread of the virus. "I also believe that after the Thanksgiving spike, which was pretty clear and pretty obvious to everybody, that that did have some impact on the way people thought about the rest of the holidays."
 
State officials anticipate opening up more businesses and activities if the public health data continues to improve. This will be aided in large part by vaccinating residents against the novel coronavirus.
 
Currently there are 125 vaccination sites with 165 expected by mid-February and more than 120,000 appointments made available. Another 30 pharmacies will be added next week for another 21,000 appointments. 
 
"We have a long way to go on the vaccine roll out, remember there are almost 7 million people in Massachusetts," Baker said. "Roughly speaking, there's somewhere between 4 [million] and 5 million people who are ultimately going to be eligible to get vaccinated, and the group that we're currently working our way through has about 1.1 million people in it, who need two shots."
 
He pointed to regional partnerships that have launched accessible sites, singling out Berkshire County's efforts in particular: the Northern Berkshire Emergency Planning Committee's vaccination clinics at St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall and the vaccination sites at Berkshire Community College and W.E.B. DuBois Middle School. 
 
"They're built on the Berkshire County model, which has been really successful at accessing and getting folks in and getting them vaccinated," said Baker. "There are three or four others they're probably going to either starting this week, or will be operational next week."
 
The Mass Growth Capital Corp. and Legislature has made more than $720 million available directly to small businesses and announced that another $174 million will be disbursed to more than 4,000 additional businesses hit hard by COVID-19 in grants ranging from $10,000 to $75,000. 
 
"Over 1,300 restaurants, bars, caterers and food trucks are getting grants, this round, as are more than 1,200 businesses in the personal care and beauty sector," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. "Five hundred and fifty-four independent retailers, 462 event support companies, 371 gyms and fitness centers and 124 indoor recreation and entertainment venues round out this particular round of awards. Nearly half of today's grantees are women owned businesses. If third are minority owned and about a quarter have not received any other relief." 
 
• Elective surgeries are still on pause. The Lowell Field Hospital will close this week but Worcester field hospital will stay open for a bit longer as it has 40 to 50 patients. 
 
• In response to a question about travel bans to surrounding states,  the governor said his administration speaks weekly with the other state officials and travel has come up.
 
"It's the sort of thing that if we were to choose to go there I would want all seven of these states to be doing something together at the same time, as opposed to having different states do different things because that gets hugely difficult and hugely confusing for everybody," he said. 
 
The governor urged residents to continue social distancing, masking and sanitation.
 
"We know that these restrictions have been and continue to be enormously difficult for large and small businesses their employees, and for individuals everywhere," said Baker. "But we're making progress in this battle against COVID, and everyone's hard work, and preparation is now making it possible for us to continue to step back to what we might call a new normal."
 

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North Adams Vaccine Clinic Passes 16,000 Doses Given

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 16,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered through the Northern Berkshire vaccine clinic.
 
Board of Health Chairman John Meaney, who as general manager of Northern Berkshire EMS has been part of the group operating the clinic, said it wasn't clear how many North Adams residents that included. 
 
As of last week, more than 5,000 residents in North Adams and Clarksburg had received at least one dose. The state tracks inoculations by ZIP code, which the city and town share, and may also include the town of Florida. The Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative is open to any Massachusetts residents and those who work or attend school here but reside in other states.
 
The clinic has been able to administer double the number of doses when it first opened, with more than 1,500 per clinic last week. But the number is dependent on the doses the collaborative gets from the state.
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