Coronavirus in Massachusetts: Businesses looking for reopening answers from Charlie Baker

May 17, 2020 | Boston Herald, Council in the News

May 17, 2020
Boston Herald
By Rick Sobey

The governor is announcing details on Monday.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday is expected to finally tell businesses how he plans to roll out the first phase of his plan to reopen the economy after leaving business and industry leaders in the dark on the details of what happens next.

Business leaders say it is overdue.

“We continue to be behind all of our border states,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “We need to help our small businesses move some inventory and give them a lifeline.”

Employers are looking for clear guidance from Baker about what safety steps businesses need to take, when their employees can return to work, and when customers will be allowed inside.

A Republican state representative on Sunday said that Baker’s Phase 1 announcement will be focused on construction, manufacturing and religious venues.

“When the state is allowing 100+ people at a time into mega, out of state corporations like Walmart or Home Depot while at the same time forbidding a small local business to open for one customer at a time by appointment only — something is not right and inherently unfair,” state Rep. Shawn Dooley R-Norfolk, wrote.

Here is what business and industry leaders hope to hear from Baker on Monday:

Restaurants: They want a date to reopen, said Bob Luz of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

“We require some lead time to get ready, and our suppliers need some lead time to order their products — to bring into the warehouses so they can deliver to restaurants,” Luz said. “We’re looking to get that date, and then start building the plan from there.”

Restaurants will need to follow social distancing guidelines, he said.

“We’re willing to meet those needs, and are looking forward to reopening,” Luz said.

Retailers: The Retailers Association of Massachusetts wants its members open before Memorial Day Weekend with scaled back occupancy.

“If that doesn’t happen, it’s absolutely critical two things happen: We get curbside pickup for stores, and customers can do appointment-only,” Hurst said. “We can’t keep moving the goalposts back without giving these small businesses a first down or two.”

Stores are capable of reopening with restricted occupancy, he said.

“We’ve learned a lot from essential stores with sanitation and face coverings and 6 feet between people,” Hurst said. “We can apply this to nonessential businesses. It’s essential to these businesses’ future.”

Massachusetts High Technology Council: They’re expecting a reopening plan that’s based on data-driven metrics, said Chris Anderson of MHTC.

“If things are starting to get worse, the plan should accommodate adjustments that are aimed at mitigating the transmission of the virus,” he said. “If things are not getting worse, then the plan should accelerate the next phase of returning people back to the workplace.”

Houses of worship: The Massachusetts Council of Churches has urged the state’s reopening advisory board to “prioritize care and resourcing of the communities hardest hit during the pandemic, especially churches in Black, immigrant and unhoused communities that often serve as multi-service centers in addition to spiritual homes,” Rev. Laura Everett said in a statement.

Jeremy Burton of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston said they’re seeking guidance from the governor about what measures need to be taken to reopen.

“Congregations will proceed with caution based on their guidance,” Burton said.

A group of people on Sunday gathered to pray outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in hopes of sending a message to Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Baker to open the churches.

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