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Outdoor Dining At Massachusetts Restaurants Begins As Part Of State's Gradual Reopening

Tables on the patio at Boston's Trattoria il Panino, spaced six feet apart.
Jesse Costa
Tables on the patio at Boston's Trattoria il Panino, spaced six feet apart.

For the first time in months, restaurants in Massachusetts are now allowed to serve meals to diners sitting outside. 

With coronavirus data trending in the right direction, Governor Charlie Baker this weekend gave the all-clear for phase two of the state's reopening plan. 

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to walk through what means will be able to open.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: This is pretty much an expected step after what we've seen in the public health data and in comments from the governor. 

The governor on Saturday gave the go-ahead for phase two, which includes restaurants — but it also includes retail stores open for the first time with limited capacity — 40% for retail stores. You'll also see things like child care centers, campus hotels, amateur sports facilities; places like pools and funeral homes will be able to open; driving ranges and a host of other businesses of that nature.

Now, there is one catch in the phase two that we heard about for the first time on Saturday, and that's that phase two will actually unroll in two parts.

The first part starts with the retailers, restaurants and businesses I just mentioned. Part two will include more of the personal contact type businesses like nail salons, personal training — things of that nature, where the clients and the worker have more personal touching going on.

So we don't know yet when that will start. That will again depend on the health data trends. But presumably, within the next three weeks, those will also get the green light to restart.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Not everyone thinks Baker is being careful enough. We heard caution last week from, among others, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, that there first need to be better safeguards for low-income workers and people of color. Has Baker addressed these concerns?

Yes. The Massachusetts Public Health Association put together a fairly broad coalition, including a number of community organizations and groups representing neighborhoods, and people of color. They think that the state is moving too fast.

As you mentioned, they think there needs to be one: more testing being done; and two: more data collection. They think the state needs to know not just that overall case numbers are drifting down, and positive test rates are drifting down, but that they're also going down in individual communities and populations with people of color, with older people, senior citizens, with the disabled.

They also think the workers, as they return to the job, need more protections. And the local boards of public health need more funding and resources to hire inspectors to enforce a lot of these distancing and safety protocols.

The governor has said that he has consulted with a lot of these organizations. And he has talked to his own team of public health experts about how to put this reopening plan together, and they feel like they're doing it in the safest possible way.

The governor did sign a bill over the weekend that the legislature sent him that would require additional data collection and public reporting, as well as the creation of a task force to look at how communities of color are being disproportionately impacted. So there are some steps being taken to address some of these concerns, but certainly not the full amount that groups like the Massachusetts Public Health Association would like to see.

Let's turn now to protests against police brutality and racism. There were nearly a dozen events in western Massachusetts alone over the weekend. And legislative leaders in Massachusetts, without endorsing specific policy changes, say Beacon Hill will respond. The legislature's Black and Latino Caucus has put forward a 10 point plan. Is that likely to be the basis of the legislation?

It seems like it, at this point. We know that the governor had a call last week with the Black and Latino legislative caucus, and he said he plans to outline some more specific details about policies he will support moving forward this week. 

House Speaker Robert DeLeo sent an email to the House Friday evening saying that he's had some initial conversations. He plans to have a sit-down meeting with the Black and Latino Caucus on Wednesday, after which he says he will put some meat on the bones of a plan that he would like to pursue as well.

And he said that 10-point plan, which includes things like this idea of a peace officer — training and standards that would allow for the certification of police officers, and then the decertification of police officers if they are caught in misconduct or abuse.

So these are things that the speaker says he will build upon as the House looks to act. And he promised what he called decisive action on this. So I think we're seeing the momentum start to grow behind police reform.

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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