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Massachusetts Undersecretary of Homeland Security Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe speaks as Gov. Charlie Baker looks on.

Baker Pauses Reopening, Ups Enforcement of COVID-19 Mandates

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires.com
02:30PM / Friday, August 07, 2020
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BOSTON, Mass. -- Citing what he termed a “new phase” in the commonwealth’s battle against COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker Friday announced a new set of initiatives designed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
 
That means delaying the next phase of Baker’s plan to reopen the state’s economy and increasing efforts to enforce the social distancing and face-covering mandates currently in place.
 
“Due to that slight uptick in positive cases, we are indefinitely postponing step 2 of Phase 3 in our reopening process,” Baker said Friday afternoon. “Five weeks ago, we laid out new economic sectors that could reopen in Phase 3. This uptick in cases and reports of people not adhering to the guidance we have put forth here in Massachusetts means we cannot move forward at this time or any time soon in the near future.”
 
Baker cited an increase in the commonwealth’s seven-day average of positive test rates, which currently stands at 2.1 percent, up from the state’s low of 1.7 percent back on July 14, a rise of nearly 24 percent in that time frame.
 
He pointed to several high-profile social gatherings on private property, including a wedding celebration last month in Gardner that reportedly was attended by 300 people.
 
In that regard, the state is reducing the number of people who can legally gather in the commonwealth in public or in private.
 
“The new executive order that I’m signing today will reduce the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people, effective Tuesday, Aug. 11,” he said. “The indoor gathering limit will remain at 25. Folks attending outdoor gatherings must ensure that guests maintain 6 feet of social distance and face coverings are required. We’ve also extended this guidance to apply to all types of locations and venues on public and private property.”
 
Baker also singled out “bars masquerading as restaurants” to skirt the reopening regulations and announced new language that clarifies who can and cannot serve alcohol to customers in the commonwealth.
 
“One of the things that’s come up a number of times is [the claim that] pretzels and potato chips meet the food service requirement [to serve alcohol],” Baker said. “It clearly doesn’t. What we tried to do with the amendment of the order is to make absolutely clear you need to be serving food that is prepared on site, and the people who are in your venue need to order and eat food if they’re going to order a drink.
 
“Some of this came out of conversations we had with the [Alcohol Beverages Control Commission], and some of it came out conversations we had with some of our colleagues in local government.”
 
Speaking of local government, part of the “new phase” of the commonwealth’s COVID-19 battle includes, “authorizing all state and local police officers to enforce these orders, and event hosts who violate these orders will be subject to fines.”
 
Previously, boards of health and local inspection officials have been charged with enforcing many of the state’s COVID-19 orders, Baker noted.
 
Friday’s executive order is designed to put more teeth in that enforcement.
 
“Most local law enforcement operations know their communities pretty well,” Baker said. “We have had complaints to some of our various hotlines where people have said, ‘These people had a big party. I called the locals and nobody did anything.’ Part of the reason nobody did anything was that they didn’t have the authority to do anything.
 
“One of the things we’re trying to do here is give local communities, local law enforcement and the State Police, the ability to actually issue a fine, which we think in many cases will help in trying to break these things up and, hopefully, reduce the number of them that are going on out there in the first place.”
 
Beginning next week, the commonwealth will begin releasing more local data on COVID-19 positive test rates, and on Friday Baker announced steps his administration will take to address “higher risk” communities.
 
“We’ve seen a slight uptick upwards across a number of communities in the commonwealth, and our goal is to identify those communities through public health data, increase enforcement and help amplify awareness in those communities so residents and businesses in those communities can practice the vigilance required to help them deal with their outbreaks,” Baker said. “To execute this mission today, we’re announcing the creation of a COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team. This team will be charged with two main tasks: ramping up enforcement in key communities and coordinating local intervention efforts at the local levels in high-risk communities.”
 
Baker said his administration is still communicating with the communities that will be targeted by the intervention teams and did not want to “name names” before it begins to work with the high-risk municipalities.
 
Appearing with Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders on Friday was Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe, the undersecretary of homeland security in the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, who said it is no time for residents of the commonwealth to let down their guard about COVID-19.
 
And she said that Baker’s new executive order empowering state and local police to assess fines will help the fight.
 
“Coordinating and empowering this enforcement of critically important public health orders will help us minimize the kind of outbreaks and transmissions that could cost lives and set us back weeks and months,” Thorpe said. “Multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional partnership will allow us to pull every lever and apply every state and municipal resource in support of our shared goal of beating this insidious virus.
 
“Fighting a virus is more than a single agency or discipline can do. It takes local and state health issues, law enforcement, licensing and other regulatory bodies working together.”

 

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