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Baker Orders All Non-Essential Businesses To Close, Asks People To Stay Home

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) speaks at a State House news conference where he issued an emergency declaration because of the spreading coronavirus.
State House News Service - pool photo

More restrictions have been ordered in Massachusetts to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Effective at noon Tuesday, all businesses and organizations that do not provide essential services must close until April 7th, under a new emergency ordered issued by Gov. Charlie Baker. 

"Acting now to prevent more person-to-person interaction  and spreading the virus will buy us more time so that our health care system can better prepare for a challenge unlike any they have seen before, " said Baker.

The Republican governor said while closing their buildings to the public, businesses are encouraged to continue operations remotely.  

He said people should remain at home as much as possible.

"We are not prohibiting travel," Baker stressed, adding that while highways would remain open and public transit systems will operate  it was not a time to " hop on the T and come downtown."

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, and package stores are among the businesses that can stay open.  Restaurants can serve food, but not for dining-in.

"We will not stop anyone from accessing these essential businesses," Baker said.

Speaking minutes after Baker issued the new directive, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said officials in the state’s third-largest city were preparing to see that the new rules are followed.

"I know it is very difficult right now," said Sarno. "We are all doing this for the common good of each and every one of us."

Many small businesses that had continued to operate during the public health emergency will now have to temporarily shut down including barbershops, hairdressers, tattoo studios, and recreational – but not medical—marijuana dispensaries.

Echoing comments from Baker, the city of Springfield’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris implored people – especially young people—to take seriously the risk posed by the virus and to practice social distancing.

"I appeal to young individuals to understand that although you may get better you can carry this virus and impact individuals in your household who may be older and who may be more likely to experience mortality--that means die from the infection," said Caulton-Harris.

Caulton-Harris said the city’s Medical Reserve Corps unit of volunteers is being activated to do “contact tracing” of people with confirmed cases of the virus to attempt to learn where they caught it from or spread it to.

The city of Springfield’s public parks will remain open for passive recreation, but Parks Director Pat Sullivan said all basketball hoops are being removed and pickup games won’t be allowed.

Baker’s latest directive includes a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.  Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said police have been keeping an eye out for large numbers of cars parked in front of a house – a sign of a possible house party—and have been asking people to respect the limits on social gatherings.

"So far, through just the advisements, people are cooperating," said Clapprood.

The coronavirus has not yet hit the Springfield Police Department, but Clapprood said three officers are in isolation after returning home from trips and are waiting to be tested.   Two recruits at the police academy became ill with tests showing one had a strain of influenza.  Test results on the other trainee are pending.

Free school breakfast and lunch meals will continue to be distributed at 15 sites in Springfield. Superintendent Dan Warwick said participation has been steadily increasing.  There were 1,800 meals given out last Friday.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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