Gov. Baker orders non-essential businesses to close and advises public to "Stay At Home"

MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2020

After 9 straight days of organizing and advocacy, I am pleased to report Gov. Baker is finally responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by ordering all non-essential businesses to close and advising all Massachusetts residents to "Stay At Home," except for food, healthcare and medicine, essential jobs, or walks/bike rides, etc.

Thank you to the Governor for taking this necessary action — and thanks especially to the 60 state and city officials who joined with me in calling on the Governor to make this move. As I told WGBH this afternoon, I think it was the right call. It should have happened last week, but nevertheless, I’m relieved to see the Governor took this action today, bringing us in line with the policies already in place in California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, and elsewhere.

Gov. Baker's actions today basically amount to what other states are calling a "Stay At Home Order," closing non-essential businesses and limiting public gatherings while also making it clear that it is still okay for people to get food, go for a walk, or seek out other essentials like healthcare and medicine. That's what we've been advocating for since a week ago Sunday. But in a clever twist, the Governor went out of his way say he wasn't issuing a "Stay At Home" order. But as WGBH's Curiosity Desk reports, "short of a mandatory quarantine, the terms being used are fungible." The closure of non-essential businesses is key.

The full text of the Governor's order is available via this link.

The full list of "essential services" that will remain open while the order is in effect is available via this link.

To be sure, certain adjustments will be called for as this order goes into effect at noontime tomorrow. I'm expect that in the coming days we will see a need for certain things to go on the "essential" list and other things to come off the list — and perhaps most importantly, there's also an urgent need for additional regulations or guidelines for how essential services can operate in the safest way possible, something the Department of Public Health is now working on, according to the Governor.

Some feedback I've heard from constituents and residents just this afternoon in the hours since the Governor's press conference:

  • Desire to see bike repair shops considered essential (this seems reasonable to me, particularly if guidelines can be implemented to minimize potential for coronavirus transmission). Update: I'm also hearing reports that even those bike repair shops weren't explicitly on the "essential" list, that they are being interpreted as essential transportation in Cambridge and Boston.
  • Desire to see recreational marijuana shops considered essential (I would note that alcohol/package stores are still open, so if they are open, this seems more than reasonable to me as well, although I would again stress the need for guidelines to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. Another idea from an advocate: "State needs to expedite third party cannabis delivery. And micro local grows with no storefront that deliver only...")
  • Desire to ensure construction jobs are treated as non-essential (this makes sense, unless its a job relating directly to safety, such as repairing a deficient bridge; still reviewing the order to determine how this is treated)
  • Desire to see real estate closing attorneys treated as non-essential (this makes sense to me, generally, still reviewing the order to determine how this is treated).
  • Can individuals who work in industries or roles that are considered "essential" still make an individual decision to stay home and collect unemployment? (My understanding is that DUA is greatly streamlining the process for qualifying for unemployment — and I would support this, especially for anyone who is older or otherwise particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 disease).
  • More will be added.

The Governor's office has advised that if the function of a given business is not listed on the "essential services" list, but you believe that it is essential or it is an entity providing essential services or functions, you may request designation as an essential business. Requests by businesses to be designated an essential function should only be made if they are not covered by the guidance. To request designation as an essential business, please click here: https://www.mass.gov/forms/essential-service-designation-request

Any questions can be directed to covid19.biz@mass.gov.

For my part, I would like to see a similar process for people to request a given service or business be treated as "non-essential," and I will be making that request to the Governor when I participate in a conference call with Secretary Mary Lou Sudders tomorrow.

All that said, it is important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 emergency will continue to get worse in Massachusetts for at least the next two to four weeks. When it comes to making policy in response to coronavirus, it's about projecting into the future and being proactive (because the virus can spread silently and in an exponential fashion). This is why I pushed so hard for the Stay At Home order to begin with. The real value of today's order is that there will likely be fewer cases and fewer deaths two to four weeks from now and beyond. 

With this order in place, our job as elected officials will be to continue working together to deliver assistance to all those in need and to protect all of the residents of the Commonwealth who will face hardship because of this order and everyone being impacted by the ongoing emergency more generally. In particular, there are serious concerns about how undocumented immigrants, people of color, people who are experiencing homelessness, people who are incarcerated, and working class folks will tend to be disproportionally impacted in this time of severe and prolonged crisis.

With the closure of non-essential activities now being ordered by the Governor, I look forward to being able to shift more of my attention toward the programs and supports that will be necessary to improve the prospects of all people in this time of emergency. In addition, I am also looking to advocate for a narrowing of the "essential services" list and greater supports and protections for those who are doing truly essential jobs.

There's more about next steps in this WGBH News piece with comments from myself, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, and State Senator Jamie Eldridge.