BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker is lowering capacity limits for most businesses and places of worship to a maximum of 25 percent, limiting outdoor events to 25 people and limiting indoor gatherings, including events, to 10 people for at least two weeks beginning Saturday.
Baker said the idea behind his newest restrictions, which which will be layered on top of the existing orders he has already issued, is to “pause activity and reduce mobility” for the two weeks immediately following Christmas in an attempt to prevent a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that could undermine the state’s hospital systems.
“Our hospitals are now under significant pressure and we’re heading toward another period, this holiday stretch, where we’re likely to see another significant increase in cases and hospitalizations unless everybody plays a very different game than the one we all played at Thanksgiving,” Baker said. “As a result, we think it’s appropriate to take action now to slow that spread. And we must do so in a way that can avoid overriding our hospital system.”
Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called it “unfortunate” that Baker chose to further reduce capacity for small businesses, many of which have “followed the rules and dutifully adhered to all state guidelines.”
“These businesses have overcome the odds and survived despite facing a months-long shutdown, fewer customers, increased restrictions, and higher operating costs, but the new capacity limits may result in their doors shutting permanently,” he said.
“The new restrictions will hit struggling restaurants the hardest, an industry already ravaged by the pandemic.”
On Monday, Baker said he was “reviewing additional steps that we can take to try to minimize the impact” of any potential post-holiday surge in coronavirus activity. Massachusetts cannot afford to have its COVID-19 caseload increase as it did in the days and weeks immediately after Thanksgiving, Baker said, adding that he was “basically begging everyone to stay within their immediate household” for Christmas and New Year’s to keep the state’s hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“But the tools that we have available at our disposal won’t stop the virus alone,” he said Monday. “We continue to need everyone, and I mean everyone, to think really hard about the consequences of the actions that they take throughout the rest of this holiday season.”
On Dec. 8, Baker announced that the state would move back a step in his phased reopening plan effective Dec. 13. That rollback meant capacity limits were lowered across an array of businesses, some indoor recreation venues were ordered to close again, and rules around mask-wearing and dining out were tightened.
This is a developing story.