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Regional News

The Short List Gives A Nod To Mass. Gov. Baker's 'Measured Approach'

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Sam Doran
/
State House News Service
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

With COVID-19 surging again in Massachusetts, this week Governor Charlie Baker rolled back the state's reopening plan a step.

This means capacity will be reduced at many businesses. Baker also tightened restrictions on indoor dining, mask-wearing in the workplace and on outdoor gatherings.

"We're asking everyone to join us, to step up their vigilance every day, in every setting — work, home, school — everywhere," Baker said.

Panelist Elizabeth Román said she thinks Baker's doing pretty well handling his apparent balancing act of trying to keep people safe and hospitals from reaching capacity, while also avoiding putting people out of work without additional unemployment benefits from the federal government.

"I think that he's had a very measured approach the entire time," Román said. "I think that he takes into account the fact that people do need to be employed, that businesses do need to remain open — but at the same time, that we have to keep the population safe."

Román said some of the restrictions this round surprised her, though.

"Like, no more than six people at a [restaurant] table," she said. "Who's going out in groups of six or 10 or 15 people? I mean, I order out. I think I've been in a restaurant twice, and sat down with one friend. And when I go in, [restaurants] look pretty empty. So are people doing this? And if they are, that's pretty concerning. And he should have backed up on this regulation, or rule, a long time ago."

As Springfield and Hampden County in particular face a recent surge, it raises the question whether the state can help more at the local level beyond issuing restrictions.

Panelist Matt Szafranski said that even though none of the latest "Stop the Spread" virus testing sites will be in Hampden County, there are a number of them coming to the other western Massachusetts counties, which may help ease some of the pressure for existing sites. But Szafranski said he thinks testing sites are just part of the picture.

"For all the emphasis on what's open and what's closed, I'm very doubtful that people are going to change their behavior enough on a personal level," he said. "Testing, and trying to do better tracing, or trying to have better science around how we contain the virus, is really something that could make a bigger difference. And I think that the testing sites are a good first step."

Baker has also been pushing to keep schools open as much as possible this fall.

Springfield recently got a letter from state education officials expressing concern that few, if any, students with disabilities were being offered in-person classes.

Springfield schools superintendent Dan Warwick said his district is in the process of upgrading ventilation systems to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

"High-need, special ed students have the highest rates of preexisting conditions," Warwick said. "So we want to make sure our environment is safe for all before we bring anyone back in."

Also this week, Baker sent a policing reform bill back to the legislature with amendments. He opposes a measure that would give a new oversight commission the duty of training new police officers, but is fine with the panel overseeing officer certification. He also objects to a ban on facial recognition technology.

The Republican governor is threatening to veto the entire package if he doesn't get the changes. And in a rare moment, there's a good chance Democrats might not be able to override the veto.

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