SALEM, MASS. (WHDH) - Many Massachusetts businesses will be allowed to increase to 50 percent capacity next week and large venues that accommodate more than 5,000 people will be able to reopen in March as the state continues to move forward with its economic reopening plan, in part due to much-improved COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday.

“Thanks to everybody’s commitment to wear masks, to distance when appropriate, to avoid crowds, and to do their part to stop the spread, we can move forward with the reopening plan,” Baker said during a news conference at Ledger in Salem.

Effective March 1, the Bay State will enter Phase 3, Step 2 of its reopening plan.

The progress in the economic reopening reflects improving virus infection rates, with major declines in new cases and hospitalizations since a post-holiday peak in January, according to Baker.

The state’s positive test rate fell below 2 percent this week for the first time since October, data shows. It currently sits at 1.89 percent.

“We are dramatically making some progress on a lot of things that will hopefully improve people’s ability and some of their choices as we go forward,” Baker said. “We’ve seen many positive trends in our public health metrics…the seven-day average has dropped below levels we haven’t seen in months.”

Indoor performance venues such as concert halls and theaters will be permitted to open at 50 percent capacity with a 500-person maximum. Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact, such as laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, and obstacle courses will also be subject to the 50 percent capacity limit.

Other business that can up their capacity to 50 percent include arcades, other indoor and outdoor recreation businesses, close contact personal services, driving and flight schools, fitness centers and health clubs, indoor golf facilities, libraries, operators of lodging (common spaces), museums, cultural and historic facilities, guided tours, office spaces, retailers, and places of worship.

Baker said restaurants will no longer be subject to a percent seated capacity limit, but they will be limited by the requirement of six feet in between tables.

Musical performances will again be allowed at restaurants with appropriate distancing. The 90-minute time limit on tables and the limit of no more than six people per table will remain in place.

Food courts will remain closed but Baker said fitting rooms at all retail businesses can reopen again.

If public health data continues to trend positive, Baker said the state will move into Phase 4, Step 1 of the reopening plan on March 22, which would allow indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas, and ballparks to reopen at 12 percent capacity.

Large venues such as Fenway Park, TD Garden, and Gillette Stadium will be required to submit a safety plan to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, according to Baker.

“We’ve been watching how these venues perform in other states and believe with the right safety measures in place, they can operate responsibly and safely,” Baker said.

The TD Garden announced that first Bruins game with fans will be on March 23 and the first Celtics game with fans will be on March 29. With the capacity restriction, 2,235 fans would be allowed in for basketball and 2,108 fans could be on hand to watch hockey.

Fenway Park can host 4,530 fans when the Red Sox begin their season in April.

Gillette Stadium said about 7,905 fans will be in attendance when the Revolution start play in April.

Overnight camps will be allowed to open this summer, while exhibition and convention halls may reopen with gathering limits in place. Dance floors may open at weddings and events only.

Large venues were put in the fourth and final phase of the state’s reopening strategy, which was dependent on a vaccine being available.

“We now have a vaccination program that ranks number one in the country out states with at least five million people,” Baker said.

Also effective March 22, Baker said gathering limits for event venues and in-public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gathering limits at private residences will remain at 25, while indoor gatherings will remain capped at 10 people.

All other industries, including road races, street festivals, parades, fairs, amusement parks, theme parks, outdoor water parks, indoor water parks, indoor and outdoor ball pits, saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms at fitness centers, beer gardens, breweries, wineries, distilleries, bars, dance clubs, and nightclubs, will remain closed until a future reopening step.

“Today’s announcement is a good sign and a move in the right direction toward getting back to that next normal,” Baker said.

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