As Massachusetts coronavirus cases climb, cities and towns push restrictions and ‘personal responsibility’

Differing strategies are beginning to emerge from some of the Massachusetts cities hardest hit by the pandemic as local leaders grapple with how to stem the surging tide of coronavirus cases post-Thanksgiving.
Leaders of a handful of cities and towns joined Boston in rolling back to Phase 2, Step 2 of reopening this week. But several of their colleagues did not — and are now doubling down on messages of “personal responsibility” in hopes of getting people to wear their masks and avoid high-risk activities through the holidays and beyond.
The two strategies aren’t mutually exclusive. In announcing the Boston rollback, Mayor Martin Walsh said, “If you want to help our small businesses stay open, do your part and follow the guidelines.”
But they are setting communities that have long borne the brunt of the pandemic on different paths.
“I know we’re all trying to do the right thing,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who did not join in the regional rollback. “But there’s no right answer or no wrong answer. Every leader’s entitled to their own opinions of what they want to do in their community.”
Massachusetts as a whole took a step back to Phase 3, Step 1 this week. But worsening metrics prompted calls for even greater restrictions.
State Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, re-issued his now-weekly call to shut down indoor dining, casinos and other non-essential indoor activities in a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker that was also signed by state Reps. Tami Gouveia of Acton, Jack Lewis of Framingham, Michelle DuBois of Brockton and Denise Provost of Somerville. They called the statewide rollback a “modest” start, but said “a lot more has to be done to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
Several municipalities took matters into their own hands. Arlington, Boston, Brockton, Lynn, Newton, Somerville and Winthrop moved their cities and towns back to a modified version of Phase 2, Step 2 for three weeks.
But some state lawmakers and municipal leaders argue those types of piecemeal efforts are confusing to residents who live in one town but work or shop in another. And they say the fragmented rollbacks simply push one community’s problems — and the benefits of their economic activity — onto another.
“I certainly had the opportunity along with my colleagues who did roll back to participate. But I also made the decision that when I’m surrounded by seven other communities that are not doing it, it’s an exercise in futility,” Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer said. “If you roll back some things people will just go to the neighboring town.”
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It’s a dilemma that’s left Spicer and other local leaders doubling down on their calls for residents to take more “personal responsibility” in stopping the spread.
“Your brief time of gratification from having a gathering could be detrimental to those same people that are part of that gathering,” Spicer said. “This is about being respectful and responsible.”
DeMaria, the Everett mayor, hears the calls from some state legislators and medical experts to close casinos, like Encore Boston Harbor. But he counters them with state data that show clusters are overwhelmingly emerging from households.
“We can’t punish those people that really aren’t the ones creating the issues. The problem is personal responsibility,” DeMaria said. “The highest rate of transmission is coming from people’s houses — small parties, card games, casual get-togethers — and that’s what we have to stop.”
DeMaria said Everett will instead focus on cracking down on house parties and gatherings through the remainder of the holiday season.
“It’s going to be tough to really police,” he said. “But we’re going to do our best.”

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