BOSTON (CBS) — All Massachusetts schools will close, restaurants will only be able to serve take-out or delivery food, and gatherings with groups larger than 25 are prohibited because of coronavirus concerns, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Sunday.
The order begins Tuesday and will go until April 7. It does not apply to grocery stores or child care programs.
For days, Baker said the Department of Public Health guidelines did not require that schools close statewide. He said the change came “now that we have evidence, based on the testing results we have that we have community transmission [in] seven counties in Massachusetts. I think at this point in time it’s particularly appropriate that we not only move on the school closures but also that we get a lot more aggressive around other places and spaces that people gather.”
“We understand that many districts rely on school buildings for essential services outside of educational programs, like meal programs and special education. Closing down school for classes will not impact these types of services and we will work with school districts to keep buildings open whenever possible to continue to offer these services,” said Baker.
Schools should work to find alternative learning opportunities for students in the meantime.
“By breaking up large gatherings and encouraging social distancing we can prevent the spread but we can’t simply transfer a group full of kids from their classroom to your neighbor’s playroom for days on end. We will not be doing our part to prevent the spread if there are a ton of kids hanging out playing video games and sharing snacks every day from one house to the next,” Baker said.
Social distancing means maintaining at least six feet from others.
“If everybody treats this as a three-week summer vacation early, that’s not going to help us with respect to the issue we’re trying to deal with here which is to reduce community spread and transmission,” the governor added.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also announced five new public health orders Sunday. “The first order immediately expands access to telehealth. The order requires all commercial insurers and the group insurance commission to cover medically necessary telehealth services in the same manner and to pay the same rate as in-person services.”
“The second order is that all assisted living facilities, nursing facilities, and rest homes are to ban visitors,” Sudders said. “The third order requires that all hospitals that are operated by or licensed by the Department of Public Health and/or the Department of Mental Health must screen all visitors and may restrict visitation or limit the number of visitors. A fourth ban is that beginning Wednesday, hospitals and licensed ambulatory surgical centers must cancel non-essential elective procedures in accordance with DPH guidance.”
The last order allows certain pharmacists to make hand sanitizer.
There are currently 164 coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, according to the DPH and 108 of them are linked to a Biogen conference in Boston in February. The state has tested 799 individuals for the virus, as of Sunday.
Earlier in the day, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued bar and restaurant restrictions within the city after bars remained busy Saturday, some with lines out the door of crowds celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in South Boston.
“The thing everybody needs to remember, especially as a young person, is your contact, your physical closeness, your contact, with older people and especially with folks like your grandmother or your grandfather can put them in terrible trouble if you are not showing a heck of a lot of symptoms, not necessarily even knowing you’ve been infected and carrying that very contagious virus around with you,” said Baker. “I think it’s important that young people appreciate and understand that with respect to this, it’s not just about them.”