Governor Baker has announced a new set of initiatives aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, especially in higher risk communities that have seen a recent uptick in cases. While Massachusetts has seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since May, there has been a slight uptick in certain communities in recent days.
These initiatives include stricter statewide rules for public and private gatherings and targeted community guidance. Starting next week, additional reporting for town-by-town data will be published weekly to show the spread of COVID-19 at a community level. Additionally, free COVID-19 testing in 17 communities has been extended through September 12.
Governor Baker has signed an updated gatherings order, effective Tuesday, August 11, which:
- Reduces the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people (indoor gatherings limit will remain at 25 people)
- Applies these limits to all types of gatherings, on both public and private property
- Requires face coverings where more than 10 people from different households will be mixing.
Due to the recent increase in positive cases, step two of Phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan has been postponed indefinitely. There are currently no plans to revert to Phase II.
Restaurant rules have been updated to state that alcoholic beverages may only be served for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on-site. Measures will be taken to ensure this provision is being enforced.
Public safety officials, including state and local law enforcement, have the jurisdiction to enforce these orders and event hosts in violation of these orders will be subject to fines or cease and desist orders.
Cross-Agency COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team:
Governor Baker also announced a targeted cross-agency COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team that will be responsible for ramping up enforcement statewide and coordinating local intervention efforts at the local level in higher risk COVID-19 communities.
Communities will be designated as higher risk COVID-19 communities based on public health data, including but not limited to rising trends for new cases and the percentage of positive COVID tests.
Member agencies include the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), who will serve as coordinators of the team, the Command Center, the Massachusetts State Police (MSP), the Department of Labor Standards (DLS), the Division of Professional Licensure (DPL), the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Division of Local Services (DLS), the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) and the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS).
Stop the Spread:
Last month, the Commonwealth launched the Stop the Spread initiative, which provides free testing to residents in targeted communities throughout the Commonwealth.
There are currently sites in 17 communities: Agawam, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester.
The initiative is a data-driven focused effort to reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in communities that are above the state average in total cases, positive test rate, and have experienced a decline in testing levels since April. These sites are open to all residents of the Commonwealth.
Free testing has now been extended in these 17 communities through September 12.
Statewide Enforcement and Intervention will include:
- Targeted interventions and inspections by a range of member agencies, including Local Services, Labor Standards, DPH, MSP and ABCC, coordinated by EOPSS and MEMA.
- Increased enforcement, including fines, of sector guidance for businesses to ensure businesses and residents are aware of and following COVID-19 orders.
- Support for ABCC and local licensing boards in exercising their existing authority to fine restaurants or suspend or cancel liquor licenses when restaurants do not comply with required COVID-19 safety measures.
- Targeted public messaging campaign to alert residents of higher risk COVID communities (road signs, PSAs, etc.).
- Technical support to local government officials to support enhanced local COVID-19 prevention efforts such as assistance in accessing CARES Act funding.
- Potential restrictions or shutdowns for parks, playgrounds, businesses or other entities and locations believed to be contributing to the COVID-19 spread in higher risk COVID-19 communities.
- Additional resources for public health support such as testing, tracing and quarantining.