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Pandemic Limits Being Lifted: Summer of Parades, Dancing, Ballparks Ahead

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BOSTON — Gathering and occupancy limits will be loosened this summer, starting May 10, for ballparks, arenas, road races, tournaments, nightclubs and parades.
The Baker-Polito administration announced on Tuesday the next phases in the state's reopening based on public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction. Since moving to Step 1 of Phase IV of the reopening plan on March 22, case rates dropped by 20  percent and the positivity rate has now dropped to the lowest levels recorded since last summer. 
This includes drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations. Massachusetts remains first in the nation for first vaccine doses and total doses administered per capita, among states with more than 5 million people. The administration will also relax the Face Coverings Order for some outdoor settings, effective April 30. 
Some outdoor Phase 4, Step 2 industries will be allowed to reopen May 10 and put plans in place for further reopening on May 29 and Aug. 1. All reopenings and limits are subject to public health and vaccination data.
"We anticipate that effective Aug. 1, all remaining industries will be permitted to open and all sectors will be able to operate at 100 percent capacity with all industry restrictions lifted," Gov. Charlie Baker said at Tuesday's announcement. "We hope that with more vaccines, and a continued success and stopping COVID we can take this step earlier. But it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated and doing the right things."
The governor stressed the need for everyone to be vaccinated and to continue to appropriately mask and social distance. Massachusetts is currently No. 2 in the nation in first doses per capita and double the national rate for Black and Hispanic residents receiving first doses.
More than 99 percent of those getting a first dose have followed up with a second within the recommended 42 days; Bay Staters have the lowest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the country at less than 10 percent.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito echoed the governor's sentiments, saying it was possible the state could open fully before Aug. 1.
"Everyone continue to do your part and it's really critical that you stay connected to this process," she said. "This past year has been incredibly difficult for everyone. I do want to give a shout out to our friends in local government and local boards of health who've done a tremendous job navigating all parts of our response to COVID. And we appreciate your continued support as we transition into this next phase, requiring your your eyes and attention on safety plans that organizations present to you for processing."
The governor noted that when he was out in the Berkshires last week, he was told appointments filled up in less than 10 minutes.
"There's a tremendous amount of interest in Massachusetts, as I said in my remarks, and getting vaccinated," he said. "If people continue to pursue that policy, going forward into the month of May and June, we'll make a tremendous amount of progress to getting to the point where a vast majority of the people who need to be vaccinated here will be."
The governor anticipated that businesses would be setting their own protocols regarding masking, work from home and requiring vaccinations within the guidelines set out by the state.
"I don't think we should do this with a one-size-fits-all," he said. "I think we should let employers lead businesses based on their organizations, based on the people they serve, the folks who work for them, and the nature of whatever the particular concerns they might have about spread and about COVID drive the way they make decisions about how to handle that stuff."
He also said the state would not be issuing COVID-19 "passports." If the federal government wanted to, that was its call, Bakr said. "But if there's not going to be a national strategy, I don't think the states be doing this one at a time." 

Phase IV, Step 2 Industries and Gathering Changes

Monday, May 10: Large venues such as indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas and ballparks currently open as part of Phase 4, Step 1 at 12 percent will be permitted to increase capacity to 25 percent.
Phase 4, Step 2 industries including amusement parks, theme parks and outdoor water parks that will be permitted to operate at a 50 percent capacity after submitting safety plans to the Department of Public Health.
Road races and other large, outdoor organized amateur or professional group athletic events will be permitted to take place with staggered starts after submitting safety plans to a local board of health or the DPH.
Youth and adult amateur sports tournaments will be allowed for moderate and high risk sports.
Singing will also be permitted indoors with strict distancing requirements at performance venues, restaurants, event venues and other businesses.
Saturday, May 29: Gathering limits will increase to 200 people indoors and 250 people outdoors for event venues, public settings and private settings.
Street festivals, parades and agricultural festivals, at 50 percent of their previous capacity and after submitting safety plans to the local board of health.
Bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries and distilleries, will be subject to restaurant rules with seated service only, a 90-minute limit and no dance floors.
Restaurant guidance will be updated to eliminate the requirement that food be served with alcohol and to increase the maximum table size to 10.
Sunday, Aug. 1: Remaining industries will be permitted to open including dance clubs and nightclubs; saunas, hot-tubs, steam rooms at fitness centers, health clubs and other facilities; indoor water parks, and ball pits.
All industry restrictions will be lifted at that time, and capacity will increase to 100 percent for all industries, with businesses encouraged to continue following best practices. The gathering limit will be rescinded.
Depending on vaccine distribution and public health data, the administration may consider re-evaluating the August 1st date.
Friday, April 30, the Face Coverings Order will be relaxed for some outdoor settings. They will only be required outside in public when it is not possible to socially distance, and at other times required by sector-specific guidance.
Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places. Face coverings will also continue to be required at all times at events, whether held indoors or outdoors and whether held in a public space or private home, except for when eating or drinking.
At smaller gatherings in private homes, face coverings are recommended but not required. The $300 fine as an enforcement mechanism will be eliminated.

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Polito, State Officials Hear From North County Business Leaders

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy with state Rep. John Barrett III at the first roundtable Thursday morning at the Log in Williamstown.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Business leaders at the three largest communities in North County had a similar message for state officials: There's lots of opportunities but the pandemic and other conditions are making it hard to find workers and raising costs for materials and supplies, and that infrastructure, including quality housing, is lacking.
"What you have been through, what you have invested in — the energy and the creativity that is represented here — this is applicable and measurable and will lead you to succeed," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to the final roundtable at MCLA Gallery 51 on Main Street. "We will not allow you to fail." 
The North County trip to Adams, North Adams and Williamstown were the final stops on the Baker-Polito administration's "Statewide Small Business Tour" to tout the opportunities available from the $5.3 billion coming from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Gov. Charlie Baker in June had re-filed a proposal to use $2.9 billion of those monies to address homeownership gaps in communities of color, and invest in job training, addiction services and local infrastructure. 
About $350 million would be available for downtown investment in infrastructure. 
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