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'A Risk In Anything He Does' As Gov. Baker Unveils Plan To Reopen Massachusetts

Downtown Holyoke, Massachusetts, in May 2014.
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/josepha
Downtown Holyoke, Massachusetts, in May 2014.

Surrounded by states working on reopening parts of their economy, Massachusetts residents and businesses this week will be examining the details of Governor Charlie Baker's plans to do the same.

Some details leaked outabout the plan ahead of the official announcement — and appeared to offer big news to houses of worship and some other businesses. 

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about what he's hearing, and what else is going on in the week ahead in state politics and government.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: There was some word on Sunday that started to leak out, because the administration had asked through the Massachusetts Municipal Association to share some information about this highly anticipated plan with local leaders.

What we know is that it appears manufacturing, construction and houses of worship are going to be among the first types of businesses that the governor is going to allow to open immediately. But of course, that will come with strict social distancing guidelines and other hygiene and sanitary practices.

The guidance I saw was that services would be limited to 40% capacity in churches and other houses of worship. Churches are encouraged to have people sign up ahead of time, if possible, so they can limit the number of people who come in, and steps like this.

So it is still going to be a gradual phase, but we're starting to see what this might look like.

It also looks like there will be another round of businesses in the first phase that will start to open next week, on Monday, May 25. This could include, based on what we started to see last night, salons, barbershops and some retail establishments, while restaurants will probably have to wait a bit longer, until the next phase.

Even before Baker was to announce the plan, there was some pushback — including from a state rep. of his own party, Sean Dooley. You reported about Dooley's concerns.

There were several Republicans last week who voiced concern that the governor was not putting enough detail behind this plan, giving businesses time to adapt, and also that he wasn't moving quickly enough.

Sunday, as the construction and manufacturing details started to get out, Rep. Shawn Dooley — a Norfolk Republican — said that at least if you're a small business who has been struggling these past few months, you can go to church to pray that you won't go bankrupt, because Charlie Baker won't be allowing you to open for business.

I'm not sure that Rep. Dooley has the full picture. It does appear that some retailers, as well, are also going to begin to start opening. And this may be a larger reopening than some people might have initially envisioned.

But there are certainly a number of people, including some lawmakers on Beacon Hill — like Rep. Dooley and others — who have voiced their concern that the governor is not moving quickly enough to save these small businesses, owned by families, who are really hurting during this time.

Some Democratic lawmakers are concerned about too fast of a reopening — including state Rep. Lindsey Sabadosa from Northampton. Does Baker risk going too fast on reopening? Have more ambitious plans from neighboring states given him some cover?

He absolutely does risk going too fast. There's a risk in anything he does.

He acknowledged this last week — that no matter what he does, some people will probably say that he's moving too fast. Some people will probably say that he's moving too slow. And that's exactly what we've seen so far.

You mentioned a number of reps wrote to him last week suggesting that he not do anything until at least June 1 — that he extended the stay-at-home advisories and the closure of non-essential businesses until June — because, as you know, the trends in the cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been showing positive movement.

But we are still seeing close to 100 new deaths a day, and over 1,000 new cases of this virus reported each day. So the virus has not gone, by any means. And there are some people who would like to see the governor, who has gotten this far with the stay-at-home advisory, to keep it going a little longer, until people can feel more feel more secure.

There are two special elections for state Senate Tuesday, including one in the Pioneer Valley — a seat vacated by now-mayor of Westfield, Don Humason. Clerks say they've had trouble staffing polling places because of COVID-19, but say this could be a test case to prepare for the state primary and general election. Is that how state officials are seeing it, as well?

It is. And it's also how the campaigns are seeing this. They see this as a real test case for mail-in voting, in particular. They focused a lot of their efforts, as they've been unable to do traditional campaigning, or even the traditional get-out-the-vote efforts to try and drive people on Election Day to their actual polling locations.

They've been encouraging people to request and vote by mail. And we'll see how those efforts go in the turnout and the number of votes cast in these two elections on Tuesday.

But this will be a big test case as state officials look to mail-in voting for the fall, and see how far they should go with such steps like mail-in voting to encourage participation in the 2020 election.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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