ANDOVER MA. – JULY 30: Mass Gov Charlie Baker wears a ‘science will win’ mask as Gov. Charlie Baker gives his daily press conference at the Pfizer manufacturing facility in Andover on July 30, 2020 in Andover, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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BOSTON – Massachusetts is entering a crucial stretch in its journey through a global pandemic: the return of K-12 education and in-person college activities.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that those are “both really big and really important deals in Massachusetts,” citing the impending transition to students coming together as something his administration wants to “get through” before considering whether to loosen some of the remaining restrictions on public activity.

“They’re hugely important for kids and families and educators, and the college return is particularly important as well for many people who work at colleges and universities,” Baker said at a press conference when asked what he would need to see to take another reopening step. “For the next couple of weeks, our focus really ought to be there, and we’ll talk about other stuff when we get past that.”

School districts and higher education institutes are taking varying approaches to their fall semesters, with about 70 percent of K-12 districts opting for either a full or partly in-person model, according to the administration.

Massachusetts has been on a gradual path toward reopening since mid-May, and Baker paused the progression in early August during a span of slightly elevated infection rates.

Offering a message to those frustrated with the pace, Baker said Wednesday that “the vast majority of our economy is open” and cited the state’s ability to avoid backtracking.

“I’m as frustrated as anybody about the fact that there are still elements of our economy that, for one reason or another, aren’t open, but anybody who watched what happened in the South and in the Midwest with respect to bars and nightclubs should understand why, as much as those organizations are distressed and suffering under this current period of time, it was pretty clear they played a significant role in significant outbreaks in many states where they were permitted to reopen,” Baker said.

Baker said he supported Northeastern University’s decision to dismiss 11 first-year students caught violating social distancing rules.

“I think this sends a pretty powerful message about that, despite the fact that it’s obviously a really terrible blow for the kids and the families that are involved,” he said.