Baker eases rules on lower risk communities

Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald pool photoGov. Charlie Baker gives his daily coronavirus update in a press conference on July 16.

BOSTON — Communities at low to moderate risk for COVID-19 transmission can move onto the next stage of reopening beginning Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said, allowing them to ease some restrictions on local businesses.

On Tuesday, Baker signed an executive order allowing cities and towns that haven't been labeled high-risk in the state Department of Public Health's reports for the past three weeks to ease limits on venues such as fitness centers, skating rinks, trampoline parks and libraries.

"We've learned a lot from watching what's going on in other states, especially in the Northeast region, and similar changes elsewhere have not led to significant transmission there," Baker told reporters.

Communities shaded "red" in the state's map for the past three weeks, including Lawrence, will remain in the current stage of reopening.

A "red" designation means communities have had an average of more than eight daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who heads the state's reopening committee, said the changes will allow outdoor performance venues in low-risk communities to operate at 50% capacity, with a limit of 250 people. Gyms, museums, libraries, driving and flight schools in those communities will also be permitted to increase their capacity to 50%, she said.

Indoor gatherings will remain limited to 25 people statewide, but the cap for outdoor gatherings at private homes will increase to 50, Polito added.

"It's important that we open reopen our economy and support local businesses, but as we've said before this virus is still with us," she said.

Massachusetts has been stuck in Step 1 of Phase 3 of the state's four-phase reopening plan since early July. Baker put the brakes on the reopening process in mid-August amid an uptick in coronavirus cases.

Massachusetts reported 450 new coronavirus cases Tuesday and 8 deaths. There have now been 9,210 COVID-19-related deaths and 129,243 cases since the outbreak began in March, according to state health officials.

Baker says a majority of cities and towns have transmission rates low enough to allow schools and most businesses to reopen, but he warned that the state could see an uptick in cases this fall.

"We’ve proven we can contain this virus problem, we’ve proven that we can open reopen our economy, but people need to stay vigilant so that we continue to move forward," he said.

For more information on the state’s reopening process:

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at


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