Many Massachusetts businesses will be limited to 25% capacity and hospitals have been directed to postpone nonessential surgeries starting the day after Christmas to help curb an anticipated increase in new coronavirus cases after the holiday that could swamp the state’s health care system, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
In addition, social gatherings will be limited to 10 people inside and 25 people outside, the Republican governor said at a news conference.
The new restrictions take effect Saturday and are scheduled to run for two weeks.
Baker also urged people to avoid large family gatherings at Christmas to prevent a surge in new cases that the state saw after Thanksgiving.
“Together, the intent of these restrictions will be to pause activity and reduce mobility so we can reduce the spread of the virus without closing our schools or our businesses,” he said.
Doctors, public health officials and some lawmakers have been pressuring the governor to take even stronger steps, including ending indoor restaurant dining, as cases surge.
The rules will create what Baker called a “bridge” to widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the first doses of which have already been administered to 26,000 workers in health care settings.
The 25% capacity limit applies to restaurants, health clubs, casinos, museums, theaters, retailers and other businesses, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. It also applies to houses of worship and libraries.
Workers and staff don’t count against the capacity limit.
“Let’s dig in a little bit further, we’ll continue to do our part to fight this pandemic just a little longer. We all know there are better, brighter and healthier days ahead,” Polito said.
The rules on nonessential surgeries do not apply to ambulatory services, and preventive procedures including mammograms, cancer screenings and radiology.
“We take this important next step to preserve inpatient bed capacity and our clinical resources, including staffing, to redeploy staff as necessary and to prepare for flex surge capacity as needed,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said.
COLLABORATIVE WORK SPACE GRANTS
Massachusetts has awarded more than $1.2 million in grants to help collaborative work spaces across the state expand and safely reopen, MassDevelopment said in a statement Tuesday.
The grants ranging from less than $2,000 to $100,000 are intended to strengthen community-based innovation and entrepreneurship. They are going to 26 organizations in 18 communities to accelerate business formation, job creation and entrepreneurial activity during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
“Beyond funding additions and new equipment, these awards will help recipients buy new HVAC systems and desk dividers, and implement other needed safety measures as we continue to navigate this pandemic.” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said in a statement.
The grants come through the Collaborative Workspace Program established in 2014.
ERIC CARLE MUSEUM CLOSES
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has temporarily closed again in response to the latest statewide spike in COVID-19 cases.
The closure that began Monday is precautionary, Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the Amherst museum told The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Staff will continue to go into the museum on an as-needed basis and the museum’s bookshop will offer curbside service, she said.
“We are hoping we can reopen to visitors early in the new year,” Kennedy wrote in an email.
Museum officials say they’ll monitor state health data and reopen as soon it’s safe for staff, visitors, and community. Everyone who has purchased advanced tickets will be issued a refund.
The museum closed in March at the start of the pandemic and reopened in August with strict protocols in place, including advanced registration for most visits and limited capacity.
Massachusetts health officials reported 43 additional deaths and about 3,300 more positive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. In Berkshire County,, which is adjacent to Bennington County, Vt., 31 new cases were reported Tuesday with 0 deaths. Between December 6 and 21, however, there were 52 deaths from COVID-19 and 579 new cases in Berkshire County.
The state Department of Public Health also said there are more than 80,000 active cases of the virus in the state, with roughly 2,000 of them in the hospital.
More than 11,500 people have died and more than 300,000 have been infected with COVID-19 in Massachusetts since the pandemic started.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate has remained at around 5% and its seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has held steady at just over 4,700 per day for the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data.