|Analysis: Data Drives Plan, Pace for Reopening Massachusetts|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
03:34PM / Monday, May 18, 2020
|A slide in the report released on Monday shows how the commonwealth currently is performing in a color-coded scale of six public health metrics.|
BOSTON — The officials responsible for the Reopening Massachusetts plan were united in one message on Monday: Massachusetts residents are responsible for the actual reopening.
"Everyone must do their part," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. "Following through on the measures we are developing in the private sector's responsibility and individuals' … everyone has to do their part.
"The next few weeks are really important to make sure, as the governor said, we are vigilant, we are cautious in doing our part."
Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy chaired Gov. Charlie Baker's Reopening Advisory Board. On Monday morning, Baker released its report
on how to implement the phased strategy he previously announced for a return to what the administration is calling a "new normal" for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phase 1 began on Monday, and each of the four phases will see continued relaxing of the non-essential business closure order Baker made on March 23.
Each of the first three phases will last at least three weeks, Baker said, emphasizing the "at least" part of that sentiment.
"With respect to the time frame around this — at least three weeks between phases, but it could be more," Baker said. "That is going to be a function, folks, of the data.
"It says it right in the report: The move to a next phase is going to be a function of a review of how we're doing in the phase we're in. And that's going to be all about the public health data."
The public will be able to follow that data once a week when the commonwealth issues a green-yellow-red ranking of six key metrics laid out in the report: COVID-19 positive test rate, deaths from COVID-19, patients in hospitals with COVID-19, healthcare system readiness, testing capacity and contact tracing capabilities.
"Before and during reopening, these metrics must continue to show progress," the report reads.
As of Monday, two of those metrics were marked green for "positive trend": the COVID-19 positive test rate and testing capacity. The other four were marked yellow for "in progress." A red indicator would be used for a negative trend.
"Until we only have a handful or no deaths, we can never say we're trending positively in that area," Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said on Monday.
Baker said the state will evaluate the trends in all six areas in order to decide whether to move forward — or backward — in the phases.
"The reason there's not one and the reason there are six is they operate as a package," Baker said. "And we're going to rely on the guidance we get from these folks and from the medical advisory board at the Command Center with respect to how to interpret these numbers as we move forward."
Baker's COVID-19 Advisory Board of medical experts and infectious disease specialists was just one of the voices providing input to the Reopening Advisory Board.
"We've spent the last three weeks meeting and collaborating with more than 75 business associations, labor unions, non-profits and community coalitions that collectively represent more than 112,000 businesses and more than 2 million employees," Kennealy said. "We also considered more than 4,600 pieces of written feedback. We engaged stakeholders and analyzed information in over 45 hours of Zoom meetings.
"And we will continue to rely on your insights as we move through the four-phase reopening. We're so mindful always of the great sacrifices that businesses have made during this pandemic. As we reopen Massachusetts, we'll look to our companies, large and small, to be partners in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces. And this commitment will be absolutely essential."
That includes a requirement that businesses self-certify that they have implemented general and industry-specific safety standards around things like social distancing, sanitation and personal protective equipment.
State and municipal authorities will not be required to do mandatory inspections before a business can reopen, under the plan outlined yesterday. Enforcement will come from responses to complaints that the standards are not being met, Polito said.
"We don't want to have to fine," she said.
"Compliance, in this, is a responsibility that an employer has. Who's going to hold them accountable? It will be a worker who doesn't feel that they're putting that practice in place or a customer who doesn't see that these safety standards are in place.
"When that happens, that person could call their local Board of Health. And then, the enforcement of that standard in that workplace will be done, in conjunction with local Boards of Health, our Department of Public Health and our Department of Labor and Standards. And if there are multiple check-ins with this workplace and they still haven't complied, that's where a fine associated with a disobeyance of the standard would come into play."
Baker said the rules for Massachusetts' phased reopening includes elements from other states and other countries that are reviving their economies during the pandemic. But he said the commonwealth is unique and requires a unique approach to recovery.
"We got a hit a lot harder by COVID-19 and the coronavirus than most other states," Baker said. "In fact, there are really only — depending upon how you do the math — only two or three that got hit harder than we did. … And I think that creates, for us, a different way of thinking about how we work our way out of this than you might see in places that didn't have the same seriously consequential hit that we have."
That is why Baker announced
the Reopening Advisory Board, generating three weeks of anticipation as the release of Monday's report neared.
It probably was no accident that Baker, with the eyes of the commonwealth on him Monday morning, made residents wait just a little bit longer to hear the report's findings, which he delivered only after he made one more in a series of daily appeals to follow common sense safety guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19: maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet whenever possible; cover your nose and mouth when you can't socially distance; wash your hands and wash surfaces; and stay home if you are feeling symptoms of the disease.
"This [reopening] report lays out what individuals must do to enable us all to move through these phases," Baker said. "This effort will hinge, fundamentally, on personal responsibility. As everyone knows, we're not helpless in this fight. We all have roles to play. And you have proven time and time again that you can play them."