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LATEST UPDATES

James Kelcourse
James KelcourseMay 29, 2020 at 10:09pm
Guidance Lets Restaurants, Lodging Prep for New Normal
Baker Cites "Real Progress," Urges Vigilance

Chris Lisinski5/29/20 5:51 PM

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said she and Gov. Charlie Baker are working with the Legislature to "streamline the process for local permitting" for restaurants that did not previously place tables outside. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]
MAY 29, 2020.....The restaurant and hospitality industries will need to wait another week to learn when they can reopen or expand pandemic-affected operations, and once they do, business will look significantly different.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito outlined near-term changes Friday that the two industries -- among those hit hardest by the pandemic and the shutdowns it prompted -- will need to make as they chart a path forward to find a new normal while abiding by mandatory safety requirements.

When they begin offering dine-in meals, restaurants will need to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms, space out customers, prevent seating at bars and cap party sizes. Hotels and motels will not be allowed to open up function spaces once they start accepting guests, and will also need to keep people as far apart as possible.

"As we move forward in reopening our economy, we understand the importance of balancing public health and economic health, and we need to do everything we can to support both," Polito said at a press conference.

On Monday, Baker will issue an executive order enabling businesses covered by the second phase of the administration's reopening plan to bring employees back to workplaces for preparation and training.

Restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery during widespread public shutdowns to limit transmission of the deadly coronavirus. Thet administration almost two weeks ago indicated that restaurants could expand operations alongside lodging starting in phase two, but the specific date of that phase is still not clear.

Baker said he will announce on Saturday, June 6, when phase two will begin. The earliest that phase two could start is June 8.

While the public health and virus numbers next week will determine whether the administration believes that target can be hit, Baker said Friday that the underlying metrics such as percent of tests with positive results and current hospitalizations "keep trending in the right direction."

"Just because we're gradually reopening the economy doesn't mean that we should let up on all those key practices that we can all do on a daily basis and had so much to do with getting us to where we are now," he said at his daily press conference. "The more we all do with this, the more likely we are to continue to move forward and back toward something more like what we used to call normal."

Through Friday, state officials confirmed 95,512 cases of COVID-19 and 6,718 deaths linked to the virus since the outbreak began.

The weighted seven-day average of positive test rates has dropped by almost three-quarters since April 15, while the three-day average of deaths are down nearly two-thirds in the same span.

"This is the only and best way we have to beat the virus to get our businesses and our routines back to something like normal," the governor said. "And thanks in large part to everybody's cooperation, we've made real progress in fighting COVID."

The administration released industry-specific guidelines for restaurants and lodging Friday to set expectations ahead of the shift. For both, business will not return to pre-pandemic norms.

Restaurants will be able to host outdoor dining at the beginning of phase two and indoor dining an unspecified amount of time later in the stage. Polito said she and Baker are working with the Legislature to "streamline the process for local permitting" for restaurants that did not previously place tables outside.

"I would fully expect that you're going to see, if we can get this worked out with the Legislature, you're going to see a lot of parking lots and other kinds of open spaces convert, which I think would be perfectly appropriate," Baker said.

Mandatory safety requirements restaurants face include limiting tables to six guests at most, placing tables six feet away from each other, and offering single-use menus whenever possible. Employees will be required to cover their faces at all times, as will customers who are not yet seated.

Any restaurant that detects a presumptive or positive COVID-19 case must immediately close for 24 hours for cleaning and disinfecting before reopening.

Hotels and other lodging businesses face similar requirements to keep patrons and employees socially distant. When possible, Polito said managers should place 24-hour buffer periods between room rentals to allow for deep cleaning, and workers should inform any travelers that state health officials recommend quarantining for 14 days after arriving from out of state.

Asked if the administration recommended travelers book an additional two weeks before their stays to allow for that quarantine period, Baker replied, "The guidance we have there is consistent with the guidance that almost every other state in New England and frankly in the northeast has right now, and I think part of that is just about being consistent with where everybody else has been."

Economic damage from the pandemic has been widespread, and food service and hospitality have been acutely impacted. Last week, state labor officials reported that 61 percent of jobs in leisure and hospitality in March were cut in April, a far higher percentage than any other industry.

Despite the strain many face, it remains unclear to what degree business will return once doors open. A poll released earlier this month by WGBH, the Boston Globe and Suffolk University found that almost 55 percent of Massachusetts residents would not be comfortable eating out once it was allowed. About a third would remain uncomfortable doing so if there were an effective treatment but not a vaccine for COVID-19.

The National Federation of Independent Business, an industry group representing more than 5,000 employers in Massachusetts, criticized the lack of a certain date for restaurants to reopen. NFIB Massachusetts State Director Christopher Carlozzi said New Hampshire and Rhode Island already allow some form of in-person dining.

"Restaurants provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in Massachusetts and those business owners need to know as soon as possible a hard date of when they will be allowed to reopen to customers," Carlozzi said. "The very gradual steps make it difficult to prepare and plan. We've already heard about too many restaurants closing their doors for good because they were shut down for so long."

Baker said his forthcoming executive order will also outline in greater detail which sections of the statewide economy fall into which part of the gradual ramp-up and will allow professional sports teams to practice in Massachusetts facilities.

The major leagues have not resumed live games, although a plan is in place to begin the National Hockey League playoffs.

Baker said he hopes opening practice facilities "will help make that happen a little sooner," lamenting the monotony of watching replays of old games.

"There's just so many times you can actually watch the Patriots beat the Falcons, or the Celtics beat the Lakers, or the Bruins beat the Canucks, or the Red Sox beat the Yankees, or the Cardinals, or the Angels," Baker said. "At some point it's got to be live."

"For all of us, live sports and especially pro sports would be a great thing to see again because not only will it be a significant milestone for those of us who are fans, but it will also send a big signal that we've continued to do all the things that we need to do to contain and control the virus and keep it in check," he continued.
James Kelcourse
James KelcourseMay 27, 2020 at 8:24pm
Crowding Thresholds to Dictate MBTA Pandemic Operations
Officials Taking Supply, Demand Aproach to Challenge

Matt Murphy5/27/20 4:03 PM

Gov. Charlie Baker visited Maverick Station in East Boston Wednesday to tour MBTA construction on the Blue Line. [Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe/Pool]

MAY 27, 2020.....As more people begin returning to the office and venturing onto the subway or commuter rail to get work, the MBTA is exploring ways to communicate with riders about crowding and making alternative modes of transportation available if trains or buses become too full for passengers to safely distance from one another.

The efforts are all part of the MTBA's planning process to begin ramping up service in the second phase of Gov. Charlie Baker's economic reopening plan, which could begin in as soon as June 8. But the answers to questions about how to safely operate a public transit system in the middle of a pandemic are not always clear.

For instance, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Wednesday that other systems have struggled with the question of how to decide which passengers to remove from a crowded bus. Similar equity concerns can arise if a bus or train were to simply bypass a stop because it was already too crowded.

"There's some important operational considerations there because you may get into a situation where you're bypassing some stops so regularly that the service is not being delivered equitably, so that is part of an ongoing discussion right now," Poftak said at a press conference Wednesday.

The head of the T was with Gov. Charlie Baker for a visit to Maverick Station on the Blue Line in East Boston to get a look at the accelerated work being done to upgrade track and other infrastructure on the MBTA line between the Bowdoin stop in downtown Boston and the airport.

The governor was joined by his administration's top transportation officials, as well as House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Sen. Joseph Boncore, the Senate chair of the Transportation Committee.

"As we turn to reopening we know that public transportation will play an important role in making sure people are able to get to where they need to go," Baker said.

Poll results released Wednesday by The MassINC polling group found that 67 percent of those surveyed would be at least somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of returning to public transit. Disinfection, the mandated use of masks and real-time information about crowding were all cited by those polled as steps that would make them feel safer riding the T or regional buses.

As the state tried to fend off more COVID-19 infections, Baker said the T has and will continue to regularly clean and disinfect all vehicles, fare gates, and other high contact areas in subway and bus stations, and remind riders to always wear a mask as part of its "Ride Safer" campaign.

"Buses, ferries and trains are unique environments. Fighting the virus in these settings is only possible through shared responsibility," Baker said.

Baker said his administration also will continue to urge employers to let employees work from home if possible, highlighting commitments the state has from 50 major employers in Greater Boston, including State Street and MassMutual, to keep the majority of roughly 150,000 employees home through at least the spring and possibly longer.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said that when remote work is not possible companies should try to work with the state to implement policies like staggered start times to help prevent the T from becoming "undesirably overcrowded" and to help limit traffic.

"Employers need to work with us to gradually bring workers back, especially here in the city of Boston and in the urban core and consider options, not just work-at-home, but like staggered start times that can further ensure that both the T and the highway network can handle the growing demand," Pollack said.

Traffic gridlock, crowded trains and irregular T service were all major issues before the pandemic arrived.

One part of the MBTA's strategy to safely ramp up service to pre-pandemic levels is to implement "crowding thresholds" based on recommendations from the World Health Organization. For instance, a bus with 58 people used to be considered crowded, Poftak said. Now the threshold will be 20 passengers, at which point the T will attempt to deploy additional buses or take other steps to reduce crowding.

Poftak said the MBTA has also reviewed plans being put in place by other major metro transit systems, including the Chicago Transit Authority, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

The T, Poftak said, is looking into how it could communicate with riders about crowding levels so they could make a decision about whether to delay their trip or seek an alternate mode of transportation.

The agency is also looking into the feasibility of using "overlapping modes" to get people to move to a bus instead of the T, or the commuter rail instead of a bus, along the same route they would normally travel. Poftak said the MBTA will begin to test this strategy by offering commuters from Lynn the opportunity to use their Charlie Card on the commuter rail, where there is excess capacity, and then observing the impact that has on bus and Blue Line shuttle usage.

"The new normal for the T will very much be dictated by crowding thresholds," Poftak said.

The MTBA is currently operating its core subway and trolley lines at 60 percent, and the agency says ridership is between 3 percent and 24 percent of normal usage, depending on the line.

In Phase Two of the governor's reopening, service will increase across all modes of transportation, including the resumption of full service on the Blue Line, limited ferry service, and increased commuter rail and bus service.

"Life as we know it has changed in many ways, but what hasn't changed is the need for a good transportation system that functions well, one that is safe, reliable, resilient, sustainable and equitable," Pollack said. "We are, however, expecting to see ongoing changes, both in how people travel and, related to that, how people work."

Child care is often mentioned in the same breath as public transportation as a service integral to bringing people back to work, and the governor said he would have more to say on the state's plan "soon."

"We agree. It's got to be part of the game," Baker said.
   

MEET JIM

As a resident of the district since childhood, I understand the unique promise our community offers to everyone who lives, works or visits here. As a small business owner, husband and father of two young boys, I also know the challenges that we face in continuing to realize that promise for ourselves and the generation to come.

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EDUCATION

Education will always be a top priority of mine. As a member of the Joint Committee on Education, I will work with the Administration and leadership to ensure that funding for our schools continues to increase as it has over the last 2 years.

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CONSTITUENT SERVICES

As your State Representative, I have worked tirelessly to make sure that you are well-represented on Beacon Hill.

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As a small business owner, I understand what it takes to be self employed in today’s competitive economy.

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