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As New England Economies Reopen, A Worry That Restlessness Will 'Sacrifice The Gains'

A man wearing a mask walks to a convenience store in New London, Connecticut..
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A man wearing a mask walks to a convenience store in New London, Connecticut..

This week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a phased approach to reopening much of the state's economy that had been shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baker's announcement comes as an advisory panel is slated to release its report on the matter next week. The governor said this will be a four-phase plan, with action determined based on COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

"I think Baker is showing, in a way, how a conservative leads on an issue like this," said panelist Larry Parnass. "He really does not want to sacrifice the gains that Massachusetts has shown in flattening this, and he talks about all the sacrifices that people have gone through, and why fritter it away?"

As they wait for more details next week, the leaders of some chambers of commerce are hoping for more clarity, and a regional approach to allow parts of the state to get going faster than others.

States neighboring Massachusetts are preparing to reopen, or already have. In Connecticut, retail stores will be allowed to open with precations on May 20, with outdoor dining allowed at restaurants. In Vermont, some stores will be allowed to open on May 18. And New Hampshirehas already seen some businesses restarting.

Panelist Elizabeth Román said that's a big temptation for some Bay State residents.

"I think people are restless. They want to go out," she said. "And, for [parts of] western Mass., Connecticut is like a 15-minute drive, so it's going to happen."

Next week, pandemic or not, there will be a special election in 11 western Mass. communities for a vacant state Senate seat. Democrat John Velis and Republican John Cain are on the ballot.

Some city and town clerks said this week they are focused on keeping polling places safe, and are having trouble finding people to staff them. The special election has already been postponed once due to the pandemic, and Román said — at this point — the voting has to happen.

"I was talking to a couple of my colleagues about it — over Zoom, of course — and we were discussing the fact that, especially in low-income communities, there's a transient population," she said. "Absentee ballots are not a realistic option for every person that wants to go out and vote, and it still is our right to do it."

And wrapping up this week, the investigations continue into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home. A WBUR report this week revealed a position created by the legislature, which would have had someone with medical experience running the Holyoke facility and another in Chelsea, has gone unfilled for four years. 


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