Updated at 2:36 p.m.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that he is placing a hold on any further reopening of the state’s economy due to a concern about rising COVID-19 infections statewide.
“In the past few weeks, we have seen an uptick in COVID-19 in some communities here in the commonwealth,” Baker said during a press conference on Friday. “We cannot move forward at this time or anytime soon.”
Baker called the pause “indefinite.”
Baker was particularly critical of larger gatherings such as house parties, weddings, and group boat charters — and the role they have played in spreading the virus here in Massachusetts.
“These parties are too big, too crowded, and people are simply not being responsible about face coverings, social distancing or any of the major metrics that we’ve put in place to help people manage the spread of this virus,” he said.
He announced a new executive order that reduces the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people that will go into effect on Tuesday Aug. 11. It applies to gatherings on public and private land.
Baker said the state is now entering a new phase in the battle against COVID-19.
“We have to work hard. Always. Harder, in some respects, than ever,” said Baker.
Baker also announced an update to restaurant rules to clarify that alcoholic beverages may only be served for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on-site. He said some bars were skirting the rules by providing minimal snacks to customers.
“Bars are closed in Massachusetts,” said Baker. “And bars masquerading as restaurants also need to be closed.”
Baker said efforts to enforce these updated state guidelines will be ramping up.
“Today I’m authorizing all state and local police officers to enforce these orders,” he said. “Event hosts in violation of these orders will be subject to fines.”
Previously, the task of enforcing these rules had fallen largely to public health and safety departments.
Baker also announced the creation of a new COVID enforcement and intervention team, charged with ramping up enforcement and coordinating local intervention efforts in communities that are designated at “at risk” due to an increase in positive cases.
The first steps of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening — which allowed for venues like gyms, museums, movie theaters, and casinos to operate under “strict guidelines” — began July 6.
The new infection numbers are nowhere near those seen at the peak of the crisis in late April and early May, when the state was averaging around 2,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 150 deaths per day. But after seeing new cases fall to fewer than 200 per day in early July, new daily COVID infections have again been steadily hovering at or above that number.
According to new data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released on Wednesday, more than 400 new cases have been confirmed in Boston alone over the past two weeks. Two other communities in Suffolk County — Chelsea and Revere — have also seen cases rising over that same time period. In Revere, more than 6% of some 2,500 tests came back positive over the last two weeks. By comparison, Cambridge — in neighboring Middlesex County — tested twice as many residents and saw a positivity rate of just .8%.
Baker was less than enthusiastic about the notion of fully-remote schooling in the fall. He said that most Massachusetts communities have transmission rates low enough to consider opening in some fashion for in-person learning, and that the state has held special education programs and summer school “with a fair amount of success.”
Baker said that when schools went remote in March, relationships among students and teachers were already established. But for schools considering starting fully remote in September, he said, “you’re talking about a bunch of kids and a bunch of teachers who won’t know each other at all.”
He noted that younger students, from kindergarten through third grade, are the least likely to be infected and perhaps stand to lose the most from remote schooling.
“Trying to teach those kids how to read remotely? That’s not how you teach kids how to read,” he said.