Massachusetts Moves Forward With Reopening as COVID-19 Cases Fall

Margaret Unger, Contributing Writer

With over 2.9 million Massachusetts residents fully vaccinated as of May 9th, and COVID-19 cases continuing to fall throughout the state, Massachusetts will be taking the next step in reopening. Many students, adults, and business owners are eager for this progress, while others raise concerns that it might be too soon.

Last March, as COVID-19 spread rapidly through the state, all non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors. Since last May, an incremental reopening process has allowed many Massachusetts businesses to safely reopen and operate, at times temporarily returning to earlier phases of reopening depending on levels of community virus spread. While reopening has allowed many businesses to thrive, not every business is currently allowed to open, and all open businesses are required to obey strict restrictions. Many businesses have been forced to close permanently, correlating with a rise in unemployment nationwide. Erin Miller, owner of Urban Hearth, a restaurant in North Cambridge, described to the Register Forum how her business has been affected, saying, “[I] had to make some very painful decisions about how we were going to move forward under the looming regulations … This has generated enough revenue to ‘keep the lights on’ pay our bills and payroll, and not go into debt.” Despite the challenges, Miller says she is “relieved” that she “got the restaurant through the worst of this past year’s challenges.”

While reopening has allowed many businesses to thrive, not every business is currently allowed to open, and all open businesses are required to obey strict restrictions.”

Massachusetts will advance to Phase IV Step II of the phased reopening on May 10th, allowing several business sectors to reopen that have been closed since March of 2020. These include amusement parks and outdoor water parks at 50% capacity, and an increase in capacity for large venues such as Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium from 12% to 25%. While most of these businesses are not located in Cambridge, this indicates the continued progress Massachusetts is making. Further reopening for bars, street festivals, and parades is planned for May 29th. Additionally, the gathering limit for indoor events will expand to 200 people, and 250 for outdoor events. Businesses already open as part of a previous phase, however, will not see any changes at the moment, and will continue to be limited in capacity and be required to enforce masking, distancing, and sanitary measures until the target date of August 1st for elimination of all business restrictions. While Governor Charlie Baker has cautioned that this date may change, CRLS student Ifrah Abdullah ’23 commented, “I don’t think it hurts to put a goal in place.”

Perhaps the most contentious of the changes is the loosening of the mask mandate. On April 30th, Massachusetts joined a growing number of states that are no longer requiring people to wear face masks outdoors if social distancing is possible. This aligns with Massachusetts’s face-covering policy from last summer; the order was tightened to require masks at all times outdoors during the COVID-19 surge in November of 2020. Many doctors in Massachusetts advocated for this move; Helen Boucher, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center, explained to WCVB News that, “We know that being outside is orders of magnitude safer than being inside,” adding, “In Massachusetts, our numbers are down 20% in the last month … All of these have led the Governor by looking at the data to make this recommendation that being outdoors when we can be separated, it is safe to take that mask off.” 

This relaxation of restrictions has proven controversial among the CRLS community. CRLS student Max Reuter 22 explained, “That new idea makes me super uncomfortable. I understand that being outside is safer, but based on what I’ve seen, people aren’t going to social distance as much. I feel that it makes sense if most of the people are vaccinated but other than that it scares me.” On the other hand, CRLS Band Director Mr. Nathan Powers expressed his excitement for the new changes, saying, “I think that [the loosening of the mask mandate] is a sign of progress and shows where our state is in terms of handling this virus.”

While the impact that this reopening will have on Massachusetts’s COVID-19 numbers remains to be seen, many CRLS students are beginning to envision a future after over a year of the pandemic. As Abdullah put it, “I’m looking forward to going outside and not having to worry as much … I also just want things to go back to normal like having family gatherings and going to school in-person.” If everyone stays vigilant and gets vaccinated, an end to the pandemic may finally be in sight.

 

Since this article was written, updates have been made to the reopening plan. This includes the May 29th lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions and rescinding of the face mask order to align with CDC guidelines, although masks will still be required in certain places such as schools and public transportation. The State of Emergency will be lifted on June 15th.