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Governor Baker defends new coronavirus restrictions

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday defended the raft of new restrictions he rolled out the day before that ordered some businesses to close by 9:30 p.m., urged people to stay home at night, and clamped down on private gatherings amid rising COVID-19 levels in Massachusetts.

“COVID has come with all kinds of difficult decisions, difficulties — and, in many cases, tragedies — for virtually everybody,” Baker said Tuesday during a State House news conference. “One of the things that’s critical to us is that schools stay open, and that businesses continue to be able to operate.”

In that context, Baker said, given “all of the feedback we’ve gotten from so many folks in local government … about the amount of activity that takes place that’s not regulated, that’s mostly going on in private residences late into the night, we felt it was important to send a message that people after 10 o’clock at night should be home with the people that they spend every day with, and to do what we can to limit the spread of COVID.”

The virus, Baker said, “for the most part at this point is moving through informal channels and informal arrangements and casual engagements between people who for the most part know each other. And the reason that’s so important now is because of that, our letting our guard down, we have a 300 percent increase in daily positive case rates since Labor Day … and a lot of concern in our health care and hospital community about what this trend will mean if it keeps running for another eight to 10 weeks.”

Baker said he understands the new restrictions are disruptive, especially for sectors such as the restaurant and recreation industries.

“But better to do something targeted now,” Baker said. “Send a message about how important it is for people to stop gathering in big groups … [and] basically encourage people, strongly, to be home with the people they spend every day with by 10 o’clock at night and see if we can’t do something to bend what is a very disturbing trend that if we just let run, will have real consequences for our healthcare system and ultimately for the rest of our economy as well. We’ll see what the data looks like in a month, but our hope is that it will look better.”

On Monday, Baker also tightened the state’s face-covering mandate, requiring anyone over 5 years old to wear a mask in public regardless of their distance from others.

The changes, which take effect Friday, were less stringent than some business owners had feared. But epidemiologists said the measures, while an important step toward communicating the pandemic’s severity, likely do not go far enough to turn back the state’s rising tide of infections.

Restaurants will have to halt table service at 9:30 p.m. each day, and facilities such as gyms, theaters, and casinos will have to close by the same time. Baker also said he’s restricting private indoor gatherings

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on state’s vaccine distribution plan

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday the state is developing a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. The plan lays out the initial steps for a “robust, comprehensive and equitable” vaccine distribution system once one or more vaccines become available.

Officials anticipate limited supply in the early phase and plan to prioritize some health care workers, people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 – including people with underlying medical conditions and those older than 65 – and other essential workers, Baker said.

“The plan also outlines our messaging efforts to make sure people know once there is a vaccine available, that it has been approved by the federal government and is safe and effective,” he said.

“We’ll also make it a priority to reach out specifically to groups that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including people and communities of color.”

Baker called it an interim plan “that will probably change as more information becomes available.”

Massachusetts is among the states that has recently seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases. As of mid-last week, a total of 63 communities in the state, including Boston, were considered high risk for virus infections, up from 40 a week before. The designation is based on average daily cases per 100,000 residents, CBS Boston reported. High risk communities are those with over 8 cases per 100,000 residents during the last 14 days.

“While we continue to plan for distribution of a vaccine, we can’t take our eyes off the measures that we’ve been talking about for the last several months to keep people safe,” Baker said Tuesday.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said late last week that officials are now giving “special attention” to gatherings and house parties “that are putting other people at risk,” as the city sees a rise in coronavirus cases. 

“We are tracing locations where house parties continue to happen,” Walsh said, adding they are working with Boston’s Inspectional Services department “to curtail these events.”

Roughly half of new cases in the city continue to be in people who are under 30, said Walsh, who advised people to “get on Zoom” and socialize digitally.

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