State House: COVID-19 update in Massachusetts

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – By this time next weekend, Massachusetts residents will know whether Gov. Charlie Baker has decided it’s safe to proceed to the second phase of his economic reopening plan. That phase includes retail stores, restaurants and nail salons inviting customers back, and public pools and lodging reopening for the summer.

That decision, though, will be based on the public health data collected over the next five days.

Establishing a baseline for the third week since some business activity resumed on May 18, the Department of Public Health reported on Sunday that labs had processed 10,334 additional tests and confirmed 664 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 96,965.

The DPH also reported another 78 deaths from the respiratory disease on Sunday as the number of patients hospitalized and in need of intensive care continued to fall.

Since the the start of the pandemic, 6,846 people from Massachusetts have died from COVID-19. The state ended the weekend with 1,824 patients reported as being hospitalized with COVID-19, down 80 from Saturday’s report, and 436 patients in an intensive care unit. The seven-day weighted average for positive test results is down to 7.1 percent.

The administration still hasn’t changed the status of any of its six health indicators to signal sufficient progress to proceed to the next phase of reopening, but the numbers do appear to be trending in the right direction, and so far haven’t regressed.

There was a business bent on the Sunday talk shows this week, with Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Rooney joining Janet Wu and Ed Harding on WCVB’s “On the Record” and Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst chatting with WBZ’s Jon Keller.

Boston is also gearing up on Sunday for a night of protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Boston Readies For Sunday Night Protests:

Boston will be giving out facial coverings to protesters who don’t have their own on Sunday night as the city prepares for large-scale protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the Black man from Minneapolis who died on Memorial Day with a white police officer’s knee on his neck. Floyd’s death has sparked massive, and in some cases violent, protests in cities around the country over the past several days, including demonstrations in Boston. Black Lives Matter plans a protest march in Boston on Sunday night from Nubian Square in Roxbury to the State House. “Your constitutional right to make your voice heard must be respected and protected. We want to keep you safe,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Tweeted in the afternoon, urging participants to wear masks and wash their hands “to keep yourself and your loved ones at home safe.” The offer from the mayor to provide face coverings to protesters in the middle of ongoing pandemic came at the end of long thread in which Walsh said, “We ALL need to listen,” to what Black people in cities from Boston to Minneapolis are saying. “We’ve seen these struggles play out before. But this time feels different. If there was ever a moment to acknowledge injustice, and recommit our nation to eradicating it, it’s NOW,” Walsh wrote. “I take that responsibility very seriously, both as Mayor, and as a white person.”

Rooney: Conventions Won’t Return For “Quite A While”:

As the state prepares for what could be the final week before entering the second phase of Gov. Charlie Baker’s economic reopening strategy, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Rooney said he wished it was clearer what benchmarks the governor was using to make that decision. Rooney, who sits on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s reopening advisory panel, said the governor had put together a “good framework” for jump-starting the economy from its coronavirus shutdown, and built in flexibility to ensure that it can be done safely. But as Baker prepares to decide by June 6 whether to allow the next wave of businesses, including restaurants, to reopen on June 8, he has only vaguely explained that it will depend on six health metrics: positive test rates; deaths, number of patients hospitalized; health care system readiness; testing capacity; and contact tracing capability. “I think one of things people would like to understand is what specific metric or goal is he looking for in those to move from phase to phase, so not just that he’s following those specific categories, but what are they. That is the kind of specificity we’d like to see more of going forward,” Rooney said Sunday during a guest appearance on WCVB’s “On The Record.” Monday marks the first day offices can reopen in Boston at 25 percent capacity, but Rooney said he does not expect workers to return at the maximum allowed level right away. He said many businesses have made plans to continue with work-for-home through the summer, or even the year. He mentioned one CEO of a Boston company who told him her plan was to add 30 days to whatever the governor allowed. He also said he does not envision large gatherings like major sporting events with spectators or conventions to return for “quite a while.” For the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the former BCEC head said that should mean a “pause,” but not the abandonment of plans to expand the facility to lure more events to the city. “This is an industry not just here in Boston but across the globe that needs to redefine its strategy and its future. Gatherings in large crowds in any form, particularly conventions, won’t come back quickly. It’ll be a matter of years,” Rooney said.

Hurst: “Let’s Get the Consumers Reengaged”:

Saying he hasn’t received an explanation about why they weren’t more included by the Baker administration in phase one of economic reopening, Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst says jobs depend on the broader inclusion of retail operations in the next phase, even with capacity limitations. During a Sunday morning interview with Jon Keller of CBS Boston, Hurst called the decision to not allow a limited number of customers to shop in retail stores during phase one “arbitrary” and said Massachusetts was “the last state in the nation for retail flexibility” for stores designated as non-essential during COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Gov. Charlie Baker allowed retailers to open for curbside pickup in Phase 1, but administration currently plans to allow them to open with restricted capacity as soon as June 8. Most of the association’s 4,000 members are mom-and-pop retailers. “These are the businesses I’m concerned about,” Hurst said. “They have no money. They’re forced by government to not service their customers, and about 30 percent of them say that they are somewhat to extremely unlikely to ever reopen again.” Many retailers are frustrated, he said, because barber shops and salons, offices and houses of worship were permitted to open, with restrictions in phase one. “We want the political leaders and the consumers to understand we need consumers to shop like jobs depend on it because frankly they do,” Hurst said. “And for political leaders, their tax revenue depends on the consumer which is 70 percent of the economy. Let’s get the consumers reengaged.” Baker plans on June 6 to announce when phase two will begin and on Monday plans to issue an executive orders with more specifics about which sectors are included in which phases.

Safety Course Available for Home Builders:

Daily safety checklists, work-site signage and employee notifications are among the areas covered in a new COVID-19 training course plan developed by home builders in Massachusetts and others as housing construction ramps up again. The 1,500-member Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts (HBRAMA) crafted the online COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness and Response Plan course for builders and remodelers, using sector-specific workplace safety standards and information from the Center for Disease Control, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a residential safety coalition led by the National Association of Home Builders. “The Home Builders Association and its members are committed to maintaining a safe environment on work sites throughout the state for employees, subcontractors and homeowners whether in new construction or remodeling,” said HBRAMA President Matt Anderson. “The production of the training course and it’s completion by designated site safety officers will help insure that worksites are following the appropriate safety protocols which in turn should provide a high level of assurance not only to on-site workers but building officials and local health inspectors that appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are being understood and followed.” The state Board of Building Regulations and Standards has approved the course to qualify for a one-hour continuing education safety course for construction supervisor license holders.

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