BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker is coming under criticism from some health experts who are warning that his decision to ease coronavirus restrictions is too soon and may lead to more misery down the road.
On Monday, the state began lifting some restrictions that have been in place for months — including eliminating restaurant capacity limits as long as parties be spaced 6 feet apart.
Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology, said the state is reopening too fast.
“Opening up these restaurants is going to prolong the epidemic, and increase the number of Massachusetts residents that die,” he told The Boston Globe.
On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as higher risk “on-site dining with indoor seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.”
But Baker said recent public health data — including falling numbers of new infections and hospitalizations — support the easing of restrictions.
“It’s obviously great to see the data moving in the right direction so that we can make it possible for people to reopen on a phased basis,” Baker said.
The decisions to restrict businesses at various points during the past year “have been extremely difficult and have come with significant negative consequences of their own," he added.
Restaurants can again host musical performances, while enforcing six-people-per-table limits, and 90-minute time limits.
On Monday indoor performance venues such as concert halls and theaters can reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons while indoor recreational activities like laser tag, roller skating and trampolines can also reopen at 50% capacity.
Capacity limits across other businesses have also been raised to 50%.
Baker said the reopening efforts “doesn’t mean that people can or should let down their guard.”
The city of Boston is being a little more cautious than the state as a whole.
Indoor performance venues and indoor higher-contact recreational activities will remain closed until March 22. The city also won’t allow live musical performances in restaurants until then.
Massachusetts should expect its first delivery of the newly approved, single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and begin distribution of the shots beginning next week, Baker said Monday.
The new vaccine — which joins two earlier vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna authorized in December — will be distributed to vaccine locations throughout the state, he said.
Baker urged residents to get whichever vaccine is available.
“These are all very effective. People don’t need to pick one from the other,” he said. “If you have a chance to get a vaccine, you should take it, whatever it is.”
One benefit of the J&J vaccine is that it doesn’t require storage in freezers, which makes it easy to administer in a variety of settings, Baker said.
After the initial shipment of the J&J vaccine, there will likely be a pause while production is ramped up and the state starts seeing additional shipments later in the month, he said.
The White House on Sunday said the entire stockpile of nearly 4 million of J&J vaccine doses will go out immediately. J&J will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March and 100 million total by the end of June.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 26 on Monday, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 15,822 since the start of the pandemic.
The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by about 1,200 and its confirmed caseload rose to more than 551,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were fewer than 800 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 180 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 69. There were an estimated 30,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,586.
More than 1.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 1.2 million first doses and more than 547,000 second doses.
OUTDOOR DINING RETURNS
Boston is planning to again allow outdoor dining on public streets beginning April 1.
Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday that the program — designed to help local eateries survive during the pandemic — will continue some of the policies created last year, including streamlined permitting and outdoor patios on roadways.
Outdoor dining will begin on April 1 or earlier if weather permits and will extend until December -- also weather permitting.
WILLIAMS COLLEGE PARTY
An unauthorized indoor party at Williams College last week attended by as many as 100 students has prompted the elite liberal arts school to delay relaxing on-campus COVID-19 restrictions for at least two weeks, the school's president said.
Maud Mandel, president of the Williamstown school, called the Friday party “deeply disappointing” in a letter to students, faculty and staff on Saturday, according to The Berkshire Eagle.
Partygoers were “tightly packed” inside a campus dorm and “were either completely without masks or were wearing them around their necks, on their wrists, etc.,”she said.
Williams will require all students found to have been at the party to switch to remote learning.