Massachusetts is working on its plan to gradually lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, the reopenings in some of the Bay State’s neighbors are already in motion.
From golf courses to hair salons, New England states are allowing their residents to take steps toward something approaching normalcy — as long as they stay six feet away from each other and there’s plenty of hand sanitizer available.
Gov. Charlie Baker has warned that Massachusetts isn’t there yet; federal officials say states should only begin lifting restrictions after a 14-day period of declining COVID-19 cases. And while Massachusetts has seen some positive downward trends, the number of cases remains high in what is by most figures the third-hardest-hit state in the country.
According to the governor, the “goal” is for more businesses to resume in a safe, “limited fashion” on May 18, when Massachusetts presents its own reopening plan. During a press conference Monday, he provided a general outline of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.
Baker outlines reopening plan in Massachusetts
“What happens here will look a lot like what happens in other places,” Baker said last week. During his press conference Friday, the governor noted that in some cases the difference is only “a matter of days.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at the reopening plans across the rest of New England.
Connecticut — which has the second-most COVID-19 cases in the region behind Massachusetts, and more deaths per capita — released a sweeping plan Friday to reopen restaurants, retail stores, offices, hair salons and barbershops, museums, and zoos on May 20.
According to the plan released by Gov. Ned Lamont, restaurants will only be allowed to have outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity. Bar areas will remain closed (though alcohol sales are still allowed). And establishments will also have to use disposable menus and single-use condiment packets to limit the potential for the virus to spread on shared items.
But even with those safeguards in place, Connecticut officials note that risks cannot be fully mitigated.
“Individuals over the age of 65 or with other health conditions should not visit restaurants, but instead continue to stay home and stay safe,” the state’s reopening guidance advises.
Museums and zoos will similarly only be allowed to open outdoor exhibits. And those in the high-risk category are urged not to visit, unless organizations reserve exclusive time for people over 65.
Connecticut’s plan also allows nonessential offices to reopen at 50 percent capacity on May 20, though companies are encouraged to continue letting employees work remotely.
Retail stores and malls will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, as long as they install social distancing measures — from visual markers to physical barriers at checkout — and require employees and customers to wear face coverings. Hair salons and barbershops must also abide by those occupancy limits, keep their waiting rooms closed, and restrict services only to hairstyling, so that customers never have to remove their masks.
While businesses will be allowed to host groups of customers, the new rules continue to ban social gatherings of more than five people and urge residents to wear a face covering at all times in public. During a press conference last week, Lamont said he is eyeing June 20 for the second phase of the gradual reopening.
New England’s geographically largest — and mostly rural — state released a four-stage reopening plan last month laying out a tentative roadmap for what summer could look like in Vacationland.
The first stage took effect on May 1, allowing Maine health care providers to perform elective procedures, as well as a limited number of businesses and activities to resume under industry-specific social distancing conditions:
- Barbershops, hair salons, and pet grooming
- Limited drive-in, stay-in-your-vehicle religious services
- Drive-in movie theaters
- Guided outdoor activities (hunting & fishing) and restricted use of golf and disc golf courses
- State parks, state-owned public land trails, and historic sites; although certain coastal state parks will remain closed
- Auto dealerships and car washes
The first phase also came with a requirement that people have to wear a face covering in public areas where they can’t socially distance.
The second stage in June is slated to lift the state’s limit on gatherings from 10 people to 50 people. It also allows dine-in eateries, fitness centers, and retail stores to open with capacity limits, including reservations whenever possible at restaurants.
However, after tripling the state’s testing capacity, Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that she would allow stores and restaurants in 12 of the state’s 16 counties, where community transmission of COVID-19 is not evident, to reopen under capacity limits on Monday, May 11. The counties are Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc.
Campsites in those more-rural counties can reopen on May 18 to Maine residents and out-of-staters who have self-quarantined for at least 14 days
The updated plan also allows gyms across the state to host outdoor classes of 10 or less and indoor one-on-one training sessions starting May 11.
The third stage envisions hotels, bars, spas, campgrounds, summer camps, and personal services like tattoo and massage parlors reopening — again, under certain capacity limits and safety guidelines — sometime in July or August.
The fourth stage would lift the gathering limit completely and allow businesses and activities to resume under “appropriate safety precautions.” However, officials cautioned that they have no timetable for when that will happen and that a spike in COVID-19 cases could derail their plans.
Most states aren’t outlining plans as far into the future as Maine. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu recently released a “Stay at Home 2.0” plan outlining the Granite State’s reopening plans through the end of May.
Beginning on May 4, the state said local hospitals could begin phasing in elective health care procedures, as long as their overall caseload — including COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients — remains manageable.
Sununu’s plan then allows hair salons, barbershops, retail stores, and drive-in movie theaters to reopen on May 11, as long as they adhere to certain social distancing rules. For example, walk-in haircut appointments remain prohibited, and salon and barbershops must limit capacity to 10 people; retail stores are required to limit themselves to 50 percent occupancy.
On May 11, New Hampshire also becomes the final state in the country to allow golf courses to reopen under modified rules.
The state plans to begin permitting outdoor dining at restaurants on May 18, along with continuing to allow delivery and takeout service. Sununu ordered that the state’s campgrounds be limited to private members and New Hampshire residents only, amid concerns that visitors from New Hampshire’s hard-hit neighbor could spread the disease.
New Hampshire’s temporary ban on organized gatherings or more than 10 people was also extended through the end of May.
Despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Massachusetts (in part due to its aggressive testing regime), Rhode Island began allowing the first wave of businesses and activities to resume last Friday, May 8 — along with an order requiring people to wear a face covering in public, both inside and outside.
While hair salons, gyms, and other close-contact businesses must remain closed, the first phase of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s reopening plan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order Saturday, while extending a ban on organized gatherings of more than five people. The new rules allow elective health care procedures, small religious ceremonies, and service-based businesses to resume, though remote work continues to be encouraged.
“Everyone who can work from home should still work from home,” says the plan.
Retail storefronts (not including malls) can reopen, but are only allowed to let in one customer per 300 square feet of floor area. For the smallest shops, that means only one customer can come in at a time. They must also have in-store social distancing markers and see-through checkout barriers. Raimondo says the state will fine or shut down businesses that do not comply.
“Browsing is encouraged to be brief and limited,” reads the state’s guidance.
Rhode Island has also allowed golf courses and parks to reopen. According to the reopening plan, the state is hoping to allow restaurants, which have been limited to takeout and delivery, to allow reservation-only outdoor dining in the near future. Future phases will gradually allow other close-contact businesses to reopen.
New England’s least populous state began outlining reopening plans more than four weeks ago amid evidence that the spread of the coronavirus had slowed.
In a series of executive orders, Gov. Phil Scott allowed small numbers of construction workers and outdoor employees to return to work, as long as they wore face coverings and followed a number of other physical distancing and sanitation measures. Scott also allowed outdoor retail shopping and farmers’ markets to reopen as long as they worked to prevent crowding, such as encouraging pre-orders. And on May 4, the state began allowing elective health procedures.
Vermont’s stay-at-home order remains in effect until May 15, but Scott relaxed rules last week to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, “preferably in outdoor settings that allow for greater physical distancing protocols.” That includes “inter-household socializing” like parties and barbecues, as long as attendees are trusted to be generally following best practices when it comes to limiting their exposure to COVID-19.
“These small gatherings will give Vermonters a chance to reunite and enjoy each other’s company,” Scott said in a statement. “But we must do so carefully. There is no specific set of rules, or enforcement measures that we can put in place here. We need Vermonters to be smart and thoughtful during these visits.”
His order also allowed public parks, recreation associations, trail networks, golf courses, big game check stations, and guided expeditions to reopen, though campgrounds, marinas, and beaches remain closed.
During a press conference Monday, Scott announced that nonessential retail stores would be allowed to open up on May 18 at 25 percent of their legal capacity and with other social distancing guidelines. Employees will also be required to wear face coverings; customers won’t face a similar requirement, but Scott said they are encouraged to wear some sort of mask. The state is still working on more specific guidance for stores.