Baker issues stay-at-home advisory, orders nonessential businesses to close Tuesday

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at a press conference on Monday. Baker has ordered all non-essential businesses to close by noon on Tuesday and has issued an advisory for state residents "to stay home and limit all unnecessary activities." SCREENSHOT/GOVERNOR'S OFFICE

  • Matt Tarlecki, who is the owner of Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton, works on a the fitting of a bright tank, Monday, Mar. 23, 2020 at the brewery. According to the Gov. Baker's non-essential sevices order, breweries can operate and sell take out products for take out or curbside pickup. Tarlecki said the brewery is operating at a reduced capacity and they have adjusted to daytime hours, since the tasting room is no longer allowed to be open. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At INSA in Easthampton, the end of the line to enter, left, extends across the parking lot to the entrance, right, Monday, Mar. 23, 2020. The sale of marijuana products for non-medical use is being halted by Gov. Baker's non-essential services order, which goes into effect Tuesday at noon. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hardey Singh, owner of Pop’s Package Store in Northampton, waits on a customer Monday. According to Gov. Charlie Baker’s nonessential services order, liquor stores are deemed essential and can remain open. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Karen Kubasek, right, wears a mask and gloves while working the checkout counter at Foster Farrar, a hardware store in Northampton, Monday. According to Gov. Charlie Baker’s nonessential services order, hardware stores are deemed essential and can remain open. Karel Rescia, who is the co-owner and manager, said she has noticed a decline in business and that “people don’t linger. They’re getting exactly what they need and then going.” STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jason Switzer of Chicopee, who works at Foster Farrar, a hardware store in Northampton, walks to his car, Monday, Mar. 23, 2020. He said he is diabetic and wears a mask while working in the store. "I'm grateful to still be working," he said. According to Gov. Baker's non-essential services order, hardware stores are deemed essential and can remain open. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hardey Singh, who is the owner of Pop's Package Store in Northampton, waits on a customer, Monday, Mar. 23, 2020. According to Gov. Baker's non-essential services order, liquor stores are deemed essential and can remain open. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pop's Package Store in Northampton has reduced their hours due to the coronavirus. According to Gov. Baker's non-essential services order, liquor stores are deemed essential and can remain open. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 11:16:25 AM

BOSTON — Amid increasing COVID-19 cases and deaths, Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered all nonessential businesses to close by noon on Tuesday and has issued an advisory for state residents “to stay home and limit all unnecessary activities.”

The order to close businesses will last until at least April 7, as will a “stay at home” advisory issued by the state Department of Public Health.

“These steps are of course difficult to take,” Baker said Monday morning. “These aggressive social distancing measures put in place today are designed to give public health experts the time they need to ramp up additional steps that must be taken to effectively push back the virus.”

Under the order to close businesses, services deemed “essential” are allowed to remain open. Those included on a nine-page list of essential businesses are grocery stores and food producers, gas stations, pharmacies, health care and public health services, first responders, energy companies, water and wastewater infrastructure, transportation and logistics, public works, the news media, information technology, hotels, financial services and the defense industry.

Hardware stores, auto mechanics, pet supply stores and other such businesses will also remain open under the order.

Restaurants, bars and other businesses that sell food and drinks are still able to offer take-out and delivery if they follow DPH social distancing guidelines, according to the order. Package stores selling alcohol are included as essential services. Medicinal marijuana dispensaries are allowed to remain open, but recreational stores must close because of the significant out-of-state traffic they receive, Baker added.

Construction on state projects is also considered essential, though Baker said guidance is forthcoming on safe practices on work sites — ensuring there are sinks providing warm water and sanitizing ability, and that social distancing is observed, for example.

Under the “stay at home” advisory, travel is not banned. Public transportation will continue running and public parks will remain open. But Baker did bar gatherings of more than 10 people, saying close contact is how the virus spreads. He said public transit should only be used for essential travel.

Baker said the advisory was not a mandate for the state’s 7 million residents to stay locked in their homes.

“I do not believe I can or should order U.S. citizens to keep confined to their homes for days on end,” Baker said. “It doesn’t make sense from a public health point of view, and it’s not realistic.”

The advisory falls short of an executive order that some city and state officials had called on Baker to issue. A group of 60 city and state officials had signed a letter asking Baker to order residents to “shelter in place” or “stay at home” except for essential needs.

“Everyone should stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job,” the letter reads. “Going outside for walks is OK, but there can be no congregating in groups and there can be no interaction with playground structures of any kind.”

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, was one of the signatories on that letter. Speaking shortly after Baker’s announcement, she said she and others had urged the governor to make that decision long ago. But she said it was a good first step. 

“This is the right choice,” Sabadosa said. “He did fall a little bit short, but I think Baker is trying to walk the line between inciting panic and ensuring people are safe.”

Sabadosa said she thinks the list of essential businesses is longer than some people would have wanted. But she is happy for the compromise, she added. 

“The list is pretty extensive, so I think as we proceed we’ll have to continue to make sure that is the most prudent thing we could be doing,” she said.

Businesses that violate the order can face up to a $300 fine and can eventually be criminally prosecuted. However, it is not the state that will enforce the order.

“We think at the end of the day it will be enforced primarily at the local level,” Baker said in his press conference.

That may be difficult to do for municipalities where city resources are already strained, however. 

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she has been advocating for a similar order, though she understands the difficulties it creates for workers and businesses. But ultimately, Comerford said, she hopes that people will take the order, as well as the stay-at-home advisory, seriously. 

“I think part of this is going to require individuals to heed the guidance, and businesses to heed the guidance, because I don’t think we’ll have enough enforcement personnel to take this on,” she said.

That is certainly the case in Holyoke, said Mayor Alex Morse. He said many cities and towns are already “strapped” when it comes to enforcement capacity. And the list of exemptions is lengthy and could apply to many businesses, he said, putting municipalities in the difficult position of interpreting the list and enforcing it.

“We’re going to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Morse said, adding that city officials have already had success enforcing similar orders Holyoke made prior to Baker’s decision. 

Morse said that when he ordered the Holyoke Mall closed last week, some businesses had questions about whether the order applied to them. He said Michael Bloomberg, the acting city emergency management director, went to the mall with the police department to ensure that stores that had to close understood that. 

Comerford said there is an appeal process for businesses that are not included on the list of essential services but believe they should be. Those businesses can reach out to their state senator’s office, she said.

Overall, Comerford — who is leading the state Senate's working group on COVID-19 — said people should understand the reason behind the social distancing efforts. The reason they are enacted is so that local health care facilities are not swamped with patients, overwhelming their capacity to effectively treat them all. 

“This is a storm of work that they are striving to meet every single day, and one way to say ‘thank you’ is to not make that storm bigger,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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