Over a dozen bars and restaurants in South Boston were closed Sunday under a voluntary agreement with local officials as the city works to limit the spread of COVID-19.
State Sen. Nick Collins announced the arrangement in a statement Sunday morning, citing the need for a collective effort to safeguard the public’s wellbeing.
“As we are in uncharted waters here and all need to heed the advice of public health professionals to help stop the spread of COVID19, South Boston bars and restaurants will be closed today as part of a voluntary agreement,” Collins, who represents the neighborhood, said in the statement. “Thank you to Mayor (Marty) Walsh, my fellow South Boston elected officials and neighbors, the Licensing Board and license holders in South Boston for working with us and taking these sound proactive measures to protect the public’s health.
“We are all in this together and it’s imperative now that we all do all that we can to keep our communities safe.”
TY Mayor Walsh, my fellow South Boston officials, Licensing Board & license holders for working w us & taking these sound proactive measures to protect the public’s health. We are in this together &it’s imperative now that we do all that we can to keep our communities safe.
— Nick Collins (@nickcollinsma) March 15, 2020
The shutdowns came on what typically would be one of the busiest days of the year for local watering holes, as green-clad and enthusiastic crowds usually would, during any other year, line up for St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The holiday is this Tuesday, March 17.
But as COVID-19 concerns and response shifted into a higher gear last week, Walsh canceled the annual holiday parade in South Boston, set for Sunday, and city and state officials issued repeated, urgent calls for the public to practice social distancing.
In stark comparison, however, crowds still stormed local bars Saturday, with lines out the door — a day after Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order barring gatherings with 250 people or more in a single space. The order does not apply to restaurants “provided that they should, when possible, encourage social distancing.”
— Alanna Durkin Richer (@aedurkinricher) March 14, 2020
Boston Police say they did NOT close down Southie bars early last night. Some bars did close well before 1am. This was what it looked like earlier in the day despite social distancing recommendations of 6 feet by city & state leaders. #COVIDー19 #WCVB pic.twitter.com/YxNdBZzbe1
— Josh Brogadir (@JoshBrogadirTV) March 15, 2020
The Boston Licensing Board issued guidance for licensees Friday, stating its position that the order applies to nightclubs, and called for licensees to “use common sense and consider what is in the best interests of the health and safety of both patrons and employees.”
In a statement Sunday, Board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce said the voluntary closings were made “based on the number of patrons on Saturday and health and safety concerns.”
Joyce said these businesses agreed to close for the day:
Back Yard Betty’s
Cambria Hotel (will service hotel guests only)
Collins told Boston.com some establishments on Broadway closed on their own by 9:30 p.m. Saturday after Boston police reached out to them.
Baker’s emergency order gives bars and restaurants the flexibility to remain open so long as customers aren’t crowding inside, he said.
Young people in particular don’t appear to be heeding the calls for distancing themselves, according to Collins.
“You can’t have 50 people in line and 250 people inside and expect that it’s all good,” he said.
People who answered the phone at two bars that closed under the agreement Sunday declined to comment.
Meanwhile, in Faneuil Hall, the Black Rose said it would also close Sunday for the first time on the busy day in its over 40-year history.
“We are postponing the celebration to a later date, as we all need to do our part right now to help stop the spread of the coronavirus,” the bar said in a statement. “We appreciate our customers and look forward to celebrating with you all soon.”
Baker, appearing on WCVB’s “On the Record,” said the city made the right call Sunday morning.
“I saw the news on what was going on in South Boston last night, and I think the mayor … (is) making the right decision shutting it down today, and I hope he shuts it down on Tuesday,” Baker said.
He stopped short of saying whether it’s possible the state would mandate all restaurants and bars to temporarily shutter, but said the emergency order purposely omitted those venues because they are largely regulated at the local level.
“I certainly think that we are probably going to talk with our colleagues in local government to make sure we deliver on … social distancing,” Baker said.
Asked about what assistance businesses that cannot have employees work from home could receive, Baker said his administration will be asking the Legislature for help on several measures, adding that it will likely file legislation Monday regarding unemployment insurance.
Collins, too, expressed the need for lawmakers to provide businesses with relief during the public health emergency.
“I think the decisions that we make … around the workforce and the industry as a whole are going to be critical to make sure they can bounce back,” he said.