BOSTON (CBS) – Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday in Massachusetts because of concerns about coronavirus (COVID-19).

So what does that mean?

“It basically means that we have the ability, if we need to, to do a variety of things that under standard operating procedure we can’t. Things like making decisions with respect to insurance coverage, so that people don’t need to worry about whether or not in fact something is going to get paid for if they need to access it,” Baker told reporters Tuesday.

“It can be as simple as having the ability to access buildings or other facilities quickly that we may need to use to store things like the stockpile and other things like that.”

Under state law, the governor can declare a state of emergency “in the event or imminent threat of a natural or man-made disaster” to give state agencies resources for  “rescue, shelter, or evacuation.”

“We have a lot of flexibility on the public health side within our existing state laws, but when you start to need to do things or pursue things, cancelling large events, when you start talking about stuff like that, we need a different level of emergency declaration,” Baker said.

Because each emergency is different, the instructions are different.

Here are some of the governor’s options, according to the state’s website.

Travel Ban — A state of emergency does not automatically mean that a travel ban is in place. Officials may implement travel restrictions if necessary.

Closures  — A state of emergency does not automatically mean that schools, businesses, and government offices are closed,

  • Businesses —The Governor does not establish specific disaster policies for individual businesses, but may encourage businesses to send employees home or remain closed. In extreme cases, the Governor may order businesses to close. Large and small private businesses should make informed decisions about delayed openings, cancellations, and closures.
  • Schools — The Governor and MEMA do not make the decision to close or delay schools. Although some districts may have established policies about closing during a State of Emergency, each school district should make informed decisions based on local conditions.
  • Government Offices — The Governor’s state of emergency declaration does not automatically close state offices. State employees can call 2-1-1 to check on the status of state office closings. Executive office employees will be informed of closure through internal notification plans, Mass.gov, and the media. The decision to close non-executive offices — such as the court system, legislative branch, and state university system — is made by their respective leadership.

Executive Orders — Under a state of Emergency, the Governor is authorized to issue executive orders to meet the needs of a threat, emergency, or disaster. These Orders are to be treated as law and may override existing law for the course of the disaster.

The Governor is authorized to exercise any and all authority over persons and property necessary to protect the public. Depending on the disaster, this may include taking and using property for the protection of the Commonwealth. Ordering evacuations, implementing curfews, or enacting other restrictions can be used to protect public health and welfare if warranted.

The last state of emergency in Massachusetts came during the Columbia Gas explosions in September 2018.

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