Churches, retail, hair salons will soon reopen
Call your hair salon, book that home appliance installation, and maybe get ready to head back into the office.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday rolled out the first phase of his administration’s plan to reopen businesses and community offerings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a stepped approach that loosens some existing restrictions while keeping most social distancing guidelines in place. It requires positive, data-driven results before the next phase of openings are allowed, and uses a “trust but verify” approach to ensuring businesses are following the rules.
“The positive is that we’re moving in the right direction to get back to normal,” said Abington Health Agent Marty Golightly, who took part in a group conference call with state public health officials prior to the governor’s announcement.
Effective immediately, workers can report back to construction sites and manufacturing plants. Churches are allowed to again host services. And hospitals and community health centers can again start seeing non-emergency patients.
However, each have certain operating conditions they must meet spelled out in sector-specific documents. Churches, for example, can’t have more than 40 percent of the building’s capacity in attendance and have to skip coffee hour for the time being. They are also encouraged to hold services outside when possible. Construction sites have to keep crews six feet apart, and provide personal protective equipment to those forced to work in close quarters.
And starting May 25, an even broader swath of businesses will be allowed to open, including hair salons, barbershops, pet groomers, “non essential” retail shops not already open, and office buildings outside of Boston. People looking for a haircut will need to make an appointment. Retail shops can only have curbside pickup, and not allow in-store browsing. Office buildings will be kept to less than 25 percent capacity.
Businesses will have to self-certify that they all following all appropriate guidelines. Golightly said he won’t have to conduct on-site inspections before businesses can reopen, but they will have to show the certification to him on demand. Customers or employees can notify the board of health of any violations. Businesses found in violation will receive guidance on how to comply. Repeated violations could result in a $300 fine and possible loss of any licenses.
Town services are expected to start resuming next week also. Although the library won’t be open for browsing until Phase Two, it will be allowed to have a curbside drop off and pickup.
Abington Town Hall is also expected to reopen to the public. Acting Town Manager Scott Lambiase told selectmen Monday night he is still discussing how that will work with department heads.
In addition, the governor’s announcement paves the way for the town to reopen parks and some recreation facilities. Under Phase Two, which could take effect in two weeks, playgrounds, pools, and all athletic fields could reopen. Golightly will be taking part in another conference call on Tuesday that he says should help identify a path forward for again opening the town’s parks and playgrounds for public use.
Golightly said its critical people don’t mistake the first phase of openings as a sign its alright to drop social distancing activities.
“It’s still status quo,” he told the Board of Health Monday night. Everyone over the age of 2 is still required to wear a facial covering in public situations when they can’t maintain six feet of separation. Gatherings of 10 people or more are still prohibited. And people are still encouraged to remain at home as much as possible.
“Help us help you,” Board of Health Chairman Chris Schultz said, while urging the public to use common sense to prevent backsliding.
The number of active cases in Abington dropped to 140 on Sunday from a high of 151 last week. Almost 70 Abington residents have recovered from the virus.
If case numbers continue to tred in the right direction, the state will move to Phase 2 in two weeks. It case numbers rise or spike, Phase 2 could be delayed, or restrictions could be put back in place.
Golightly said there are still lots of questions yet to be answered about the phased reopening, such as whether families can hold their traditional Memorial Day cookouts, or whether they should be canceled.
“I hate to say it, but this is a moving target and things are going to change tomorrow,” he said, encouraging people to check the department’s website and social media pages for updates.
Gov. Bakers Reopening Massachusetts Plan: https://www.mass.gov/doc/reopening-massachusetts-may-18-2020/download
Four-phased reopening plan: http://mass.gov/info-details/reopening-four-phase-approach
When can my business reopen?: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-when-can-my-business-reopen
Abington Board of Health website: https://www.abingtonma.gov/health-department-0