COVID-19 Daily News

Baker-Polito Administration Extends Non-essential Business Closures to May 18

BOSTON — In what will surely be frustrating, if understandable, news to most Massachusetts businesses, the Baker-Polito administration has extended the statewide essential-services emergency order by two weeks.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 essential services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public will be extended until May 18. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18.

Local economic leaders told BusinessWest that, while their frustration is real, it’s not targeted at the state, and they understand the delicate balance between public health and economic health.

“While the Springfield Regional Chamber expected and understands Governor Baker’s decision to extend the stay-at-home advisory, that tough decision underscores the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in as a business community,” chamber President Nancy Creed said. “We’re doing a balancing act between wanting to get back to work and getting back to work in a safe manner.”

In a poll of its members last week, she noted, the chamber asked what worried them  more: the spread of the virus if restrictions were loosened too soon, or the negative economic impact of not reopening quick enough. It also asked if Massachusetts was ready for a May 4 reopening.

“Seventy-seven percent responded that the spread of the virus was more worrisome, and an overwhelming number — 91% — responded that Massachusetts was not ready for a May 4 reopening,” Creed said, “clearly revealing that much of the business community is concerned about protecting those most vulnerable and stopping the spread of the disease, and demonstrating the commitment our business community has to the community as a whole.”

Rick Sullivan, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, took a similar outlook.

“I do not think that anyone is surprised that the shutdown has been extended, as the governor has been clear he will follow the data as to when to begin reopening the economy,” Sullivan said. “We may be seeing the number of cases plateauing, but [development of] a vaccine, or treatment medication, is still in its infancy, so the data still says go slow. I do think some businesses previously deemed non-essential could have protocols put in place to allow partial reopening. However, nobody wants to reopen prematurely and see worse spikes later in the year.”

Baker also announced that the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person-to-person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The administration also extended the guidance issued to executive-branch employees on protocol during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure state government can continue to provide key services while protecting the health and safety of the public and the executive-branch workforce. Under the guidance, all employees performing non-core functions who are able to work remotely should continue to do so until May 18.

Baker also announced the formation of a Reopening Advisory Board, which will be co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The board brings public-health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the Commonwealth. This group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will meet with key stakeholders and solicit input from a variety of constituencies over the next three weeks to develop a report by May 18 that will include DPH-approved workplace-safety standards, industry frameworks, and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders. While this report is due on the 18th, the administration has made clear that public-health data and guidance from healthcare experts will dictate the timeline of the reopening process.

The 17-member Reopening Advisory Board is composed of three public-health officials, including Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, three municipal officials, and 11 leaders from the business community, including MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. Members of the board bring a range of perspectives to the table, such as an understanding of workplaces and workforces and insights into key areas like financial markets, education, manufacturing, and transportation.