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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Process of (and Hope in) Reopening

As I write this, we are three months and one day into the declared Coronavirus Pandemic, where many of us have spent our time at home practicing social distancing. We have all watched as the confirmed cases and casualties have climbed with Massachusetts a hotbed of activity. For many this has been an unprecedented experience, and, in some ways, it has brought us all metaphorically closer as we keep our minimum six feet apart. With daily and weekly updates, a plethora of broadcasts and articles, we have waited anxiously for this moment and as of May 15, 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration have unveiled their four-phase plan to reopen the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Any dates that have been projected are currently tentative as the Commonwealth begins to take into account the probable cases going back to March 1st when the declaration was made and continues to reevaluate based on data trends.

Reopening will not be a quick, lightspeed ahead progress. It will be slow and steady, with data-driven phases lasting a minimum of three weeks, dependent on health data trends. The goal? To reopen a state with a 2019 population of 6.893 million people without causing a second wave of COVID which would negate the progress of the last few months. Using the dynamics of a Public Health Risk (PHR) to Economic Benefit (EB) ratio, the phases are taking into effect the contact intensity and percentage of public facing roles in comparison to the number of unemployment claims, median income of the populace, and the percentage of the state’s small and medium businesses. Heading into Phase One we are aiming for a lower PHR to higher EB ratio with a goal of a Higher EB to lower PHR ratio in Phase Four.

As each industry reopens, a ‘sector specific protocol’ will be set and must be followed.

Phase One, also known as the ‘Starting Phase’, went into effect on May 18th with the limited industry resumption under severe restrictions. Reopening to gatherings of fewer than ten people and a ‘safer at home advisory,’ this phase also allowed essential businesses, manufacturing businesses and the construction industry to move forward, many opening to outdoor services only. Those who travel into Massachusetts from out of state are still asked to self-quarantine for fourteen days. Besides these industries, as of May 25th, lab spaces, offices, personal services and retail stores have reopened. Personal services such as hair salons, pet groomers and car washes will be limited, and retail stores will be relying on online orders and curbside pickup. As of June 1st, Boston office spaces have also opened, but only to twenty-five percent capacity.  This phase holds that there will remain to be some restrictions, capacity limits and staggered openings to prevent overcrowding.

By far the most expansive of the openings per the current details, Phase One also allows for the openings of recreations such as most fishing, hunting, and boating, drive-in theatres, beaches, outdoor gardens and zoos, and some athletic fields.

Currently undated, Phase Two, known as ‘The Cautious’ phase, will reopen with restrictions and capacity limitations. Opening day will be updated according to trends for retail space, restaurants, lodging, additional personal services (like nail salons and spas), campgrounds, playgrounds, public pools, athletic fields and select youth sports. As per his June 1st press conference, Governor Baker plans on revisiting the idea of potentially opening Phase 2 on Monday June 8th. He is scheduled to make an announcement on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Should we move into Phase 2, we an expect to see an opening in summer camps, childcare facilities, non-essential retail and outdoor dining, all with restrictions.

In terms of childcare centers licensed through the Department of Early Education and Care, facilities must submit revised operation and safety plans to the Department for reopening, outlining the steps they will be taking to remain in compliance. Restaurants and dining facilities opening to outdoor dining only will be limited to tables set six feet apart with no more than six people per table. For those retailers who will be opening in Phase 2, they will be limited to eight people in the store per 1,000 feet of retail space, including employees, or 40% capacity, whichever is greater. However, malls will only be allowed to fill to 40% capacity. Grocers and pharmacies will still be required to dedicate a one-hour window strictly for parties sixty-years or older to do their shopping.

As we roll into the beginnings of summer with temperatures climbing and distance learning coming to an end, one of the biggest questions is in regard to summer camps. As of right now, Governor Baker will be allowing them to open in Phase two with groups of no more than twelve children; each camp is allowed several (currently with no further specification) groups of twelve. We currently await further information.

Phase Three, the ‘Vigilant Phase’ will be opening pursuant to trend with the potential for updated guidance for bars, arts and entertainment centers (such as casinos, gyms, and museums) and other businesses minus nightclubs and large event venues. While these industries open, it will be a matter of controlling the ebb and flow of people to prevent over-exposure.

The fourth and final Phase, known as the ‘New Normal’ is dependent on compliance and the development of a vaccine and/or treatment for resumption of full activity.

Looking at it, it seems like a lot over a long period of time. Per the adage, slow and steady wins the race. No matter which phase we are in, so long as people continue to comply, we are moving forward. Though ‘moving forward’ may look vastly different than what we are leaving behind, progress is progress. Go back to Phase One: Drive-in Theatres. An institution that has been closed for years and considered a ‘bygone’ is reopening and bringing families together in open air that will make memories that last a lifetime. A plethora of sidewalk chalk and window art have taken over the streets, even though children are now home all day and both they and their parents are handling distance learning, another new and frightening thing. People are reaching out to one another, sometimes to strangers, other times to friends and family that they haven’t spoken to in extended periods of time. For all the negative, COVID19 has brought people together, which is something to remember as we surge on.

Wash your hands. Wear your face coverings in public. Keep six feet from others. Stay vigilant. And please, if you are experiencing any COVID19 symptoms, stay home. Like previous pandemics and epidemics, we will get through this if we continue to work together.


By Courtney Garrity, Paralegal

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