The next part of the state’s third reopening phase is being put on hold indefinitely while local police are being empowered to fine anyone breaking newly-lowered caps on outdoor gatherings, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday afternoon.
The move comes after public health experts maintained a steady drumbeat of concern that Massachusetts’ rising COVID-19 case count, plus decreasing public commitment to social distancing measures, was putting the state on a path to losing the gains it has made in its battle against the pandemic.
Effective Tuesday, Aug. 11, outdoor gathering limits will be lowered from 100 to 50 people, with indoor gathering limits held steady at 25. The governor’s new order applies to both public and private property and also requires face coverings to be worn when more than 10 people from different households will be mixing. Restaurant rules have been updated to clarify that alcohol can only be served with food intended for consumption on-site, to crack down on “bars masquerading as restaurants,” an announcement from the governor’s office said.
Previously announced free COVID-19 testing in 17 of the state’s hardest-hit towns and cities has been extended through Sept. 12.
The gathering limits will now be enforceable by state and local police. Previously, enforcement and fining was the job of local public health officials.
Step two of the third phase in the state’s reopening plan is also being postponed immediately, which would have allowed high-contact indoor business like roller rinks and events like indoor theatrical performances to take place.
The announcement from Baker’s office also indicated that businesses should expect stepped-up inspections and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention rules from state and local officials, including local liquor licensing boards. The announcement also raised the possibility that parks, playgrounds or businesses believed to be contributing to the spread of COVID-19 could be shut down in communities where the risk of transmission is high.