Baker announces Phase Four reopening by end of March

Bostons Fenway Park empty

State House News Service

Boston’s Fenway Park empty

By Camilo Fonseca, Editor-at-large

Massachusetts will enter the final step, Step Two, of Phase Three in its four-phase reopening plan next Monday, with plans to move into Phase Four as early as March 22.

The Commonwealth’s reopening timetable, announced by Governor Charlie Baker in a Thursday afternoon press conference, will move Boston and the rest of the state into Phase Three, Step Two on March 1. Baker cited public health trends, such as positive COVID-19 vaccination rates, falling average daily cases, and hospitalizations, as justification for the decision.

Phase Three, Step Two relaxes various restrictions for public accommodations in the state. Restaurants will be exempt from percent capacity limitations that currently sit at 40 percent, while maintaining social distancing, table seating, and 90-minute eating-time restrictions.

Baker also permitted indoor performance and recreational venues, such as theaters and concert halls, to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Since Feb. 1, Boston has been in Phase Three, Step One of reopening. The city had previously moved into Phase Three in the fall, but rising cases and hospitalizations caused Mayor Marty Walsh to temporarily roll back Boston to Phase Two in December

It is unclear whether the city government will opt to delay any part of the statewide reopening; Boston never entered Phase Three, Step Two of reopening, while most of Massachusetts did in October.

Guidelines for mask wearing, social distancing, and travel remain in effect, according to the press release.

The administration’s plan to move into Phase Four—provided positive health trends continue—is slated for March 22, the shortest turnaround period of all reopening steps so far at just over three weeks. It will reopen establishments like stadiums and sporting facilities at 12 percent capacity—allowing fans to attend indoor and outdoor sporting events at places like Fenway Park and TD Garden, given approval from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Phase Four also aims to open event venues such as dance halls and convention centers, as well as raising gathering limits at outdoor public and private gatherings (150 and 25 people, respectively). 

Per the state’s reopening plan announced on May 18, the fourth and final phase is conditional upon “the development of vaccines and treatment.” 1.1 million Massachusetts residents, or about a sixth of its 6.8 million population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 25. The Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center ranked the Commonwealth’s vaccination program as 42nd out of all states—among the worst in the nation.

Emerson has not yet announced how the new state guidance will affect in-person campus activities. As Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Jason Meier noted, the college will have to mirror the decision taken by the city of Boston.

“Frequently the city has had more stringent restrictions than what Governor Baker has shared,” Meier said in an email statement. “We’ll need to be in compliance with the city’s guidance.”

If college policy is adjusted in conjunction with the state reopening, students could see the return of in-person performances and student organization meetings as early as the next few weeks.