Governor Charlie Baker announced last Friday (8/7). a new set of restrictions on public and private gatherings in the state. The new order represents the postponement of the second step of Phase 3 of the State’s reopening plan and is in response to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. The new measures went into effect Tuesday 8/11.
Outdoor gatherings, both public and private, will now be limited to a maximum of 50 people or 25 percent of a facility’s maximum legal occupancy, down from 100, and will now require attendees to maintain at least six feet from members of other households. The social distancing requirement applies to both indoor and outdoor gatherings unless it is “not reasonably possible”. Political demonstrations, religious activities, and businesses that had been allowed to open remain exempted from the order. The maximum for indoor gatherings in a single space will remain set at 25 and applies to both public events and to organized events at private homes, backyards, parks, and athletic fields. The order also requires everyone over the age of two to wear a face covering at organized gatherings of more than 10 people involving more than one household. That includes private indoor or backyard house parties.
The postponement of the second step of Phase 3 delays the opening of indoor theaters and performance venues as well as certain indoor recreational activities where there is a higher potential for person-to-person contact such as roller skating or laser tag.
Officials say Phase 4, which includes bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, and large arenas, will not begin until there is an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19.
Baker said Friday that officials will work to ramp up enforcement of the new and existing rules. Under the Governor’s order, police will now be able to fine event hosts up to $500 for each violation. Baker emphasized that the new order is giving state and local police enforcement authority. Previously, local health and inspection officials had been tasked with enforcing the rules, which impeded action when witnesses tried to report violations to police, according to Baker.
Baker also announced a statewide COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team that will work to make sure residents are following the rules and coordinate mitigation efforts in communities where COVID-19 appears to be on the rise. The cross-agency team will particularly focus on making sure businesses are following the state’s sector-specific guidelines. Restaurants could have their liquor licenses suspended or canceled for violations. The team will also engage in public awareness campaigns, help municipalities access federal relief funds, and even restrict or shut down local parks, playgrounds, businesses, or other spaces believed to be contributing to COVID-19 spread in higher-risk communities.