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May 19, 2020

CT, Mass. become the final states to begin reopening

Photo | CT Mirror/CLOE POISSON Hospital workers administer tests for COVID-19 in the drive-up testing area at St. Francis Hospital on Good Friday.

Connecticut and Massachusetts are set to partially reopen this week after prolonged coronavirus shutdowns, the final states to begin to do so.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker detailed a plan that begins Monday with the reopening of manufacturing facilities, construction sites and places of worship with certain restrictions.

"As I've said before, we've all been doing our jobs to fight back, and as a result, positive case rates are moving in the right direction and hospitalizations are down," Baker said.

Starting May 25, retail establishments can offer curbside service, office spaces can reopen at 25% of capacity -- except in Boston -- and personal services like barbershops and hair salons may be permitted to reopen if they follow the new guidelines.

Each phase is expected to last at least three weeks, and there will be four phases total, the governor said.

Public transit riders are required to wear face coverings and maintain distance, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will operate on a limited schedule while the commonwealth is in phase one and employees will frequently disinfect trains, she said.

The decision of how and when to proceed through the phases will be based on six public health metrics, including the Covid-19 positive test rate, deaths, hospitalizations, health care system readiness, and testing and contact tracing capabilities.

Though just the 15th-largest state by population, Massachusetts has had the fourth-most confirmed coronavirus cases and the third-most deaths of any state in the United States. The state was the site of an early outbreak connected to a business conference in Boston. Confirmed cases have been slowly declining since a peak in late April, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In addition, Connecticut, which released its reopening plan May 9, is set to allow restaurants, offices, retail stores and outdoor museums and zoos to reopen with certain restrictions on Wednesday. Hair salons and barbershops were initially included in that first phase, but their reopening has been delayed to June to align with neighboring Rhode Island.

With Massachusetts' announcement, every state has put forth a plan to begin to reopen. Yet the differences between states' criteria to reopen, and the federal government's lack of clear guidance, is stark.

At one end of the spectrum are states such as Massachusetts and New York, which set up clear public health metrics that must be met in order to reopen. At the other end of the spectrum is the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which put forth generalized guidelines for reopening that had few details or specifics on how to do so safely.

Former CDC acting director Dr. Richard Besser said people need the CDC to provide "detailed specifics," such as how many feet away tables should be at restaurants to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"What kind of barriers should restaurants use? When will it be safe for people to be on the street?" Besser, who is now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said late last week.

"You know, specifics is where it gets done," Besser said. "CDC is really good at that when they're allowed to do it."

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