Baker announces easing of capacity restrictions for businesses amid improving COVID-19 data

MEDFORD, MASS. (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced that the state is easing its restrictions on business capacity as COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.

In an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus following Christmas, the state implemented restrictions aimed at “pausing activity” and “reducing mobility,” including dropping capacity to 25 percent at restaurants, offices, and retail stores, among a host of other places.

“Overall, I think it worked,” Baker said of the post-holiday restrictions. “Since the start of 2021, the Commonwealth has seen positive trends emerge as hospitalizations have decreased and the percent of positive cases has declined at a steady rate.”

Hospitalizations are down by 33 percent since they peaked in early January and the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases has also plummeted by 53 percent in recent weeks, according to Baker.

Effective Monday, Feb. 8, capacity limits will be boosted to 40 percent at restaurants, close-contact personal services, theaters and performance venues, casinos, office spaces, places of worship, retail and grocery stores, driving and flight schools, indoor golf facilities, libraries, places for lodging, arcades, indoor recreation businesses, fitness centers, and health clubs, cultural facilities, and guided tours, Baker said.

Despite the capacity change, the state will remain in Phase 3, Step 1 of its reopening plan.

Indoor performance venues and indoor recreational businesses will remain closed until public health data shows “further sustained improvement,” Baker said.

Indoor gatherings and events will still be limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings and events will remain capped at 25 people.

“We know that these restrictions have been and continue to be enormously difficult…But we’re making progress in this battle against COVID and everyone’s hard work and preparation is making it possible for us to continue to step back to what we might call a new normal,” Baker said.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone says Somerville will stay at a 25 percent capacity limit, adding that Baker’s decision to ease restrictions when the vaccine rollout has been rocky and new virus variants are spreading has left him bewildered.

“I think it really makes no sense we would loosen restrictions and elevate the risk against the advice of experts,” he said.

Baker urged all eligible residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible at one of the state’s 125 vaccinations sites. He added that 165 sites, including mass sites, should be up and running be the middle of February.

More than 120,000 new vaccination appointments will go live within the next week, including 55,000 appointments at mass sites.

To find a vaccination site near you, check out the interactive map below:

Baker reminded residents of the importance of staying vigilant in the fight against the virus, even with the improving health metrics and more vaccines becoming available.

“People are doing a great job of stopping the spread, and as a result of the progress we’re making, everybody needs to understand that we still have lots of work to do,” Baker said.

Baker also asked residents to continue to wear masks, maintain distance from others, and limit gatherings to immediate household members.

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