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'Here's The Rulebook': Western Mass. Reaction To Baker's Reopening Plan

The Massachusetts Statehouse on Tuesday, March 17, closed to the public.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
The Massachusetts Statehoue on Tuesday, March 17, closed to the public.

There's mixed reaction from some western Massachusetts lawmakers and local officials to Governor Charlie Baker's plan to reopen the state's economy, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The phased approachallows manufacturing and construction to resume immediately, with retailers allowed to start offering curbside pickup next week. Offices outside of Boston will be able to operate at 25% capacity (with Boston following on June 1), with several state-issued requirements in place. 

Northampton state Representative Lindsay Sabadosa was among a group of lawmakers calling on the governor to keep a stay-at-home advisory in place until at least June 1st. She said the infection rate in Massachusetts is too high right now to start reopening.

"I really feel like we should be relying on scientists and epidemiologists in order to make these decisions, rather than the business community," Sabadosa said. "I understand these are difficult economic times, but we are all in that. It is government's role to support us and preserve public health and safety."

The Baker administration insisted Monday that each phase of reopening will be driven by public health data.

Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox said he agrees with Baker's plan. He said it's a cautious approach that gives businesses time to to plan and prepare for getting back to work. 

"I think he's giving people some advanced notice, which is what I've been asking for for weeks now," Pignatelli said. "Just don't tell me today I can open tomorrow, tell me today that I can open up next week, and here's the rule book, here's the roadmap. I think he's done that very nicely."

Some local mayors also expressed support of Baker's reopening plan.

"We're pretty excited to have some businesses, manufacturing, that can come back on line," said Chicopee Mayor John Vieau. "It's nice to hear barbers and hair salons will be able to open by appointment only."

Vieau, along with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, urged the public to continue to heed social distancing guidelines, as well as to wear masks and wash hands in order to guard against a resurgence of COVID-19 once the economy does reopen.

"The lights have not been completely turned on today. Gotta be cognizant of that," Sarno said during a Monday press conference. "I commend Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor Polito and the whole review team."

The advisory board, led by Polito, included the president and CEO of Baystate Health, Dr. Mark Keroack.

Keroack said hot spots of COVID-19 could emerge from time to time. But with coronavirus hospitalizations on the decline, he doesn’t anticipate a major jump in the opposite direction as Massachusetts begins to reopen. 

"If we basically shot the starting gun and the mayor declared a parade down Main Street and we all decided to go to big crowded events, then we might see an explosion," he said.

That's what happened in cities like Philadelphia in the flu epidemic of 1918.

"But we’re really taking baby steps here," he said. "This is nothing like back to normal."

Helen Caulton-Harris, Springfield’s commissioner of health and human services, said this summer will be like no other for children and parents.

"Having a child during the summer is going to be extremely difficult," she said. "In the summertime, they’re used to going out and playing and enjoying themselves. Tell them you want them to protect themselves and their friends, maybe grandparents and those in their environment that they love."

The plan released by Baker calls for beaches and parks to reopen May 25th. Community pools, playgrounds and camps could open later, as long as officials see positive trends in public health data. Baker's plan said state agencies are still considering guidelines for expanded childcare options and summer camps.

Monday's announcement comes as some of Massachusetts' neighbors have already started to reopen, or are set to. Rhode Island and New Hampshire have begun the process, while Vermont started to ease restrictions on Monday. Connecticut is poised to take similar steps on Wednesday. 

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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