Baker, Polito announce guidelines for reopening restaurants with outdoor seating

BOSTON (WHDH) – Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Friday announced a set of guidelines and safety standards that restaurants and hotels must abide by if they want to reopen during Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase plan to a “new normal.”

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The workplace-specific safety standards are organized around four distinct categories: social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting.

“This virus answers to no one and isn’t playing by any set of rules,” Baker said during a news conference at the State House.

Polito said that outdoor dining will begin at the start of Phase 2 and that indoor dining will begin later within the phase, but that decision will depend upon whether key coronavirus data is trending in the right direction.

“We understand the importance of balancing public health and economic health,” Polito said as she stood alongside Baker. “We need to do everything we can to support both.”

Even when indoor seating is permitted, the use of outdoor space will be encouraged for all restaurants, according to Polito.

“The ventilation obviously outdoors is a lot better than the ventilation indoors,” Baker said. “It would give people a chance to figure out how to work between the tables.”

Social distancing guidance includes spacing tables six feet apart with a maximum party size of six people. Plexi-glass will be installed if tables cannot be properly spaced apart.

The use of bars, except for spaced table seating, will not be permitted.

Polito said that employees and servers will have to wear masks or face coverings. Diners will have to do the same if they get up from their table but not while seated.

For hygiene protocols, utensils and menus should be kept clean through single use or with strict sanitation guidelines. Reservations or call ahead seating is recommended, and contactless payment, mobile ordering or text-on-arrival for seating will also be encouraged.

Polito said restaurants will be expected to follow cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, in accordance with CDC guidance. That includes closing temporarily if there is a case of COVID-19 in an establishment.

Baker also noted that “a lot of parking spaces and other spaces” could be converted into outdoor dining space.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association said, “We are appreciative to have the beginning of our re-opening process and we certainly understand the need for continued good data. Regulations, standards, and proposed next steps are welcomed, but what restaurateurs in the state of Massachusetts still need is a firm opening date. The Massachusetts food and beverage industry is the second-largest private employer and has been closed for more than 75 days. Restaurateurs need time to work with suppliers to restock perishable inventory, employees need to be notified about returning to work and there needs to be sufficient time to conduct other due diligence to ensure restaurants can open effectively.”

For full restaurant guidance, click here.

Hotels, motels, and other lodging businesses will be allowed to expand their operations in Phase 2 as well.

Safety standards will apply to all forms of lodging, including hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts’, short term residential rentals, Airbnb, and VRBO.

Event spaces like ballrooms and meeting rooms will remain closed. On-site restaurants, pools, gyms, spas, golf courses, and other amenities at lodging sites may operate only as the categories are authorized to operate in accordance with the phased re-opening plan.

Lodging operators will be required to inform guests of the Commonwealth’s policy of urging travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days when arriving from a different state.

For full lodging guidance, click here.

On Monday, Baker said he will issue an executive order with a detailed list of sectors that fall into each phase.

The order will allow Phase 2 businesses to bring back employees in preparation for re-opening.

Through the order, Baker said professional sports teams can begin practicing at their facilities in compliance with the health and safety rules that all the leagues are developing.

Phase 2 is slated to begin on June 8, as long as all key coronavirus data, including positive test rates, hospitalization rates, ICU capacity, and fatalities continue to trend in the right direction.

Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer before moving to the next phase, depending upon what public health data trends indicate, according to Baker.

Phase 1 was launched on May 18.

Baker said his administration will make a determination on June 6 on whether Phase 2 can commence as scheduled.

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