LOWELL, Mass. (AP) — Massachusetts restaurants will soon be able seat up to 10 people at a table and use their bar areas to serve food, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.
The moves that take effect Monday are intended to help the industry, which has faced severe restrictions intended to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We hope these updates also help Main Street shops and restaurants," the Republican governor said during a news briefing at the Mill City BBQ & Brew restaurant in Lowell.
The 10-person-per-table limit is up from six.
Bar areas can be used for food service as long as proper distancing measures remain in place, he said.
“No standing around the bar, OK?" Baker said.
The changes were made based on the experiences of other states that “clearly” shows restaurants can safely use bar areas, he said.
They also come as approaching colder weather makes outdoor dining less viable.
The state's Stop The Spread program that offers free testing in 18 cities and towns around the state with high levels of virus transmission will be extended until the end of October, said.
A Massachusetts college has shut down a dormitory and placed more than 250 students in quarantine or isolation after more than a dozen tested for the coronavirus.
Seventeen students who live in the residence hall have tested positive, according to a statement from Merrimack College, a private Roman Catholic school in North Andover.
Of the 266 students who live in the dorm, more than 250 are quarantining off campus, and the remaining students are isolating in campus-designated spaces, according to the statement.
They will attend classes remotely for at least 14 days.
The dorm will be thoroughly cleaned before students are allowed to return, the school said.
All other students will be tested.
Baker is pressing most Massachusetts school districts to bring students back for in-person classes.
Schools should rely on remote learning only if their community is in the state’s highest coronavirus risk category for three consecutive weeks, Baker said at a news conference Wednesday.
“The state has an obligation to ensure that local officials are providing the best possible education in these difficult circumstances,” Baker said.
Baker’s comments come a day after a teachers union faulted state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley for pressuring 16 school districts currently teaching only remotely to come up with a timeline to begin in-person learning for most students.
Massachusetts Teachers Association Merrie Najimy has called Riley’s directive a threat, saying he and Baker “failed to provide adequate guidance or state support to make it possible for our public schools to open safely.”
The 16 districts are Amesbury, Bourne, Boxford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Pittsfield, Provincetown, West Springfield, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public, Hoosac Valley Regional, Gill-Montague, Mohawk Trail, Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont, Manchester Essex Regional, Belmont, and Watertown.
ONLINE BALLOT REQUESTS
Massachusetts voters can now go online to request a ballot for the November election.
Voters who have not already applied for a November ballot may use the portal available at www.MailMyBallotMA.com to request a ballot from their local election office, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin announced Wednesday.
Before requesting the ballot, each voter will need to verify their voter registration information.
The online system will help voters who are away from home and did not receive the Vote by Mail applications that were mailed to them recently, Galvin said in a written statement.
Galvin also said that the new online portal should help reduce the time it takes for voters to apply for their ballots by eliminating the need for a local election official to wait for the application to arrive in the mail.
He said the online system will also help voters return their ballots in plenty of time to be counted.
A new state law approved this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic allows all registered voters to vote by mail this year. The same law allows voters to sign ballot applications electronically and to request ballots through an online portal.