By Lauren Bennett
Phase Two, Step Two is officially underway in Massachusetts as of Monday, June 22. At a press conference on June 19, Governor Charlie Baker announced that as part of Step Two of Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan, things like indoor dining, close contact personal services, and dressing rooms by appointment only would be allowed to open. Offices would also be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, an increase from the previously allowed 25 percent.
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito also announced a new funding round for MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program totaling $225,000, and said that the COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places program will allow groups to apply for grants of up to $25,000 for materials for outside dining and retail spaces.
The industries that are allowed to reopen as part of Step Two will have to follow sector sector-specific guidelines and mandatory safety standards in order to reopen.
“Key public health data, such as new cases and hospitalizations, has been closely monitored and seen a significant decline allowing for Step Two of Phase II to begin on June 22,” the state said in a recent release.
Patrons will be required to dine six feet apart indoors, and close contact personal services like hair removal, nail care, massage therapy, tanning salons, and tattoo and piercing shops will be required to operate in accordance with specific guidance from the state as well as create a COVID-19 control plan and complete a self-certification. The full list of safety protocols and guidelines can be found at mass.gov/reopening.
On June 23, Baker said that he is “encouraged by the continued progress” regarding the positive test rate in the Commonwealth. He said that the average positive test rate is down to 1.9 percent.
Recentrly, 17,617 tests were performed for people who have recently been to a large gathering, and 3.5 percent came back positive, which Baker said is “consistent” with the daily positive rate. He said that while he is “pleased to see the percentage of tests was quite low,” he added that “COVID-19 will not take a summer vacation.”
On June 19, the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Health Equality Advisory Group released new data and recommendations regarding the response to the pandemic.
“The advisory group recommendations were released with new data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) that highlight marked differences in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for different races and ethnicities,” the state said in a release. “Black non-Hispanics and Hispanics have a 3x higher positive COVID-19 case rate than White non-Hispanics. Black non-Hispanics and Hispanics also have higher rates of hospitalizations. Age-adjusted mortality rates show these groups are bearing a higher burden of COVID deaths compared to the White or Asian populations. Nine of the ten cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID infection are also communities where more than half the residents identify as people of color.”
The Advisory Group consists of 26 community leaders, health and racial equity experts, as well as members of communities who are impacted disproportionately by the virus, the release states. “The advisory group’s mission was to inform the state’s COVID response by recommending actions aimed at equitable access to health care resources and services, and prevention of inequities and disproportionate negative outcomes,” it said.
“We have long understood that racism is a public health issue that demands action, and the disproportionate impacts of this new disease on communities of color and other priority populations is the latest indicator change is necessary,” Commissioner Bharel, who chaired the advisory group, said in a statement. “At the Department of Public Health, our mission is to eliminate health inequities and we place equity at the core of all that we do.”
Some of the recommendations of the group include increasing equitable distribution of PPE, increase housing stability for those disproportionately affected by the pandemic, investing in outreach in multiple languages for testing, access to state assistance programs, and more.