Massachusetts easing some COVID-19 business capacity limits

  • A woman waits to cross the street outside of the new COVID-19 vaccination site at the Reggie Lewis Center, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Boston's Roxbury section. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Published: 2/4/2021 8:07:09 PM

BOSTON — Massachusetts is easing some of its COVID-19 restrictions by increasing the capacity limits on businesses to 40%, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday.

The higher capacities affect businesses and other locations that had previously been limited to 25% capacity. Those include restaurants, gyms, libraries, museums, retail offices, arcades, golf courses, places of worship and movie theaters — which will still operate under a cap of no more than 50 moviegoers.

Restaurant workers will not count to the 40% limit, and the new rules take effect on Monday at 5 a.m., Baker said.

The decision to ease the capacity limits comes as Massachusetts has seen positive trends in the state’s fight against the coronavirus following a post-holiday peak in cases in early January, Baker said.

The state is continuing to maintain a limit of 10 people at indoor gatherings and 25 people at outdoor gatherings.

Baker also announced nearly $174 million in awards to more than 4,000 additional small businesses in the sixth round of coronavirus relief grants.

This program is focused on businesses that have struggled during the pandemic, including restaurants, bars, caterers, personal services and independent retailers.

So far, more than $450 million in direct financial support to 9,900 small businesses has been awarded. The funding was made available in part through a $668 million business relief fund set up in December.

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POOLED SCHOOLS TESTING

About 120 schools and districts have signed up to participate in Massachusetts’ weekly pooled COVID-19 testing program for students and educators, according to state education officials.

Together, they represent more than a quarter of the state’s public school students, a spokesperson for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told Masslive.com. The department will continue to accept applications for the program through the end of the month.

Testing could start this week, spokesperson Jackie Reis said.

While Boston’s school system is participating, the school districts in the state’s second and third largest cities, Worcester and Springfield, are not among the initial participants.

The program intended to keep more children in the classroom during the pandemic, was announced last month. Under the pooled testing program, 10 nose swabs from one classroom or cohort of students and staff will go into one tube to be tested together. If the pooled sample is negative, all the individuals are presumed negative. If the pooled sample comes back positive, all the individuals will be retested with the rapid test.

The pooled tests cost at least 75% less than the cost of an individual test, officials said.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths rose by 74 on Thursday, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 14,489 since the start of the pandemic.

The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by about 2,600 and its confirmed caseload rose to more than 507,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 1,500 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 330 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 68. There were an estimated nearly 62,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,187.

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AQUARIUM REOPENING

The New England Aquarium, one of Boston’s most popular attractions, is scheduled to reopen Friday after being closed to the public since mid-December under city guidelines to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have missed seeing visitors come through our doors each day,” aquarium President and CEO Vikki Spruill said in a statement Thursday. “We are looking forward to providing people of all ages with a safe and fun environment this winter to learn about the wonders of the ocean.”

Visitors must book a specific time to show up and the building will be limited to 20% of capacity. Mask wearing will be strictly enforced and foot traffic will be one way.

During the shutdown, animal care staff remained on-site to care for the aquarium’s roughly 20,000 creatures.




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