Charlie Baker issues new set of COVID restrictions as hospitalizations climb

Gov. Charlie Baker issued new limits on gatherings and business capacity just in time for Christmas, delivering at the same time a promise for renewed relief that small business owners called “too little, too late” for the thousands who have already shuttered amid the pandemic.
Restaurants, gyms, casinos, offices, churches, libraries, movie theaters, arcades, golf facilities, museums and most other businesses must cut capacity to 25% of their maximum beginning Dec. 26 for “at least” two weeks, Baker announced in a State House press conference on Tuesday.
The restrictions are a temporary move to stave off another surge in cases like the one that has put “significant pressure” on the state’s hospitals in the wake of Thanksgiving, Baker said.
“We think it’s appropriate to take action now to slow that spread and we must do so in a way that can avoid overrunning our hospital system,” Baker continued.
Gathering sizes will also be slashed to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors — including for events, according to state guidelines. Hospitals must cancel or postpone any invasive elective inpatient procedures beginning Saturday in an effort to free up hospital beds and staff, according to state guidelines.
“Anyone who doesn’t have a Zoom Christmas is going to have an ICU New Year’s,” UMass Memorial Health Care CEO Dr. Eric Dickson said, warning hospitals are already being pushed to their limits. “There’s just too much virus out there.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state surpassed 2,000 on Tuesday, according to state public health data.
It’s a warning people didn’t heed over the Thanksgiving holiday and businesses are suffering the “sacrifice,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said. Baker and Kennealy will unveil a “significant” relief package on Wednesday for affected businesses, the pair said.
“It’s too little, too late,” Craigie on Main owner and chef Tony Maws told the Herald. “Our government and communities will find our main streets will be filled with closed and for-rent businesses and character and flavor that restaurants bring will be gone.”
Maws, who co-founded Massachusetts Restaurant United to lobby for financial aid for restaurants at the outset of the pandemic, said the loss of these businesses will have a “devastating effect” on the economy.
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Food service jobs employed 350,000 people — nearly one-tenth of the Bay State’s workforce — before the pandemic. Roughly 25% of those have now closed, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. A recent Harvard study estimates the state has lost 37% of its small businesses.
National Federation of Independent Business State Director Christopher Carlozzi said “the new restrictions will hit struggling restaurants the hardest, an industry already ravaged by the pandemic.”
Doug Bacon, president of the Red Paint Hospitality Group, which has already put four of its eight restaurants into “hibernation,” said the capacity cuts are “frustrating” for restaurants that have dealt with ongoing restrictions since March.
“I don’t really have a lot of faith in anyone using the word temporary when they’re putting restrictions on my business,” Bacon said.

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