Summary by: Jessica E. Molignano, Esq.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 State of Emergency in Massachusetts. Although it has certainly been a long year, recent milestones are indicating that we are taking positives steps towards the “new normal.” The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of recent changes, such as the progression in the state’s reopening plan and recently released CDC guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated.
With public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction, the Baker-Polito Administration have announced plans for continued reopening.
Beginning on March 1, 2021, the Commonwealth returned to Step 2 of Phase III, pursuant to the four-phased plan to reopen the economy released by the Baker-Polito Administration in May, 2020.
Step 2 of Phase III includes the following updates to businesses, activities, and capacities:
- Indoor performance venues such as concert halls, theaters, and other indoor performance spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons;
- Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact (laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, obstacle courses) will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity;
- Capacity limits across all sectors with capacity limits will be raised to 50% and exclude employees; and
- Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will be permitted to host musical performances; six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table and 90-minute limits remain in place.
Governor Baker’s office emphasized that residents should continue with preventative measures, including mandatory masks/face coverings in public and encouraged residents to avoid contact outside of immediate households. All other travel and public heath orders remain in effect.
On March 22, 2021, if the public health metrics continue to improve, the Commonwealth will move into Step 1 of Phase IV of the reopening plan. Step 1 of Phase IV includes the following updates to businesses, activities and capacities:
- Pending submission of a plan to the Department of Public Health, the following industries will be permitted to operate at a strict 12% capacity limit: indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas, and ballparks;
- Gathering limits for event venues and in public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Private outdoor gatherings will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.
- Dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other events only;
- Overnight summer camps will be allowed to operate this coming summer; and
- Exhibition and convention halls may also begin to operate, following gatherings limits and event protocols.
Phase IV opens a range of previously closed business sectors under tight capacity restrictions with an expectation to be adjusted over time as long as public health data continues in a positive trend. Other Phase IV sectors not listed above must continue to remain closed.
Fitness Centers and Health Clubs
Effective March 1, 2021, new sector specific workplace safety standards were released for fitness centers and health clubs to address COVID-19. These standards have been revised from a previously-issued set of standards on January 25, 2021. Fitness Centers and Health Clubs are defined as any fitness facility that provides access to and/or instruction of personal fitness training, including but not limited to fitness activities such as weight resistance training, cross training, yoga, spin classes, and boot camp training. These standards provide minimum requirements only and are not comprehensive. While these standards permit the operation of both indoor and outdoor fitness facilities, it is encouraged to offer outdoor classes and activities. Saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms are not permitted to open before Phase 4.
Indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, such as for gymnastics, tennis, and swimming, in-facility child-care, food services, pools, personal services, must follow additional guidance. Please consult the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) COVID-19 Guidance Documents, Massachusetts Child and Youth Serving Programs Reopen Approach, Safety Standards and Checklist: Restaurants, Safety Standards and Checklist: Close Contact Personal Services.
On March 1, 2021, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released Safety Standards for Public and Semi-Public Swimming Pools in Phase III, Step 2, which applies until amended or rescinded. Pursuant to 105 CMR 435.00, a Semi-Public Pool means a swimming, wading or special purpose pool on the premises of, or used in connection with a hotel, motel trailer court, apartment house, condominium, country club, youth club, school, camp, or similar establishment where the primary purpose of the establishment is not the operation of the swimming facilities, and where admission to the use of the pool is included in the fee or consideration paid or given for the primary use of the premises. As of March 1, 2021, all public and semi-public pools are subject to the requirements of 105 CMR 435.00: Minimum Standards of Swimming Pools, State Sanitary Code: (Chapter V), as well as stricter state or local standards established for COVID-19. In Phase III, Step 2, indoor and outdoor swimming pools are allowed to continue operating, however, hot tubs and whirlpools should remain closed.
The standards provide recommendations for general pool guidelines, social distancing, general sanitation, ventilation, signs, staff procedures, maintaining chemical standards and turnover, lifeguards and water safety, and communication systems. The general pool guidelines recommend pool operators review and follow the Commonwealth’s Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces, General Business Guidance for Reopening Massachusetts, Maintaining Chemical Standards and Turnover, Workplace Safety and Reopening Standards for Businesses and Other Entities Providing Youth and Adult Amateur Sports Activities, Revised Order Requiring Face Coverings in Public Places, EOEEA May 18, 2020 Outdoor Recreation Facility Restroom Cleaning Best Practices Memorandum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Considerations for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19, Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation, Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility, and review the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of disinfectants meeting EPA criteria for use against the novel coronavirus.
On March 8, 2021, the CDC released long-awaited guidance for individuals who have been or will be fully vaccinated. So, what does it mean to be fully vaccinated? Under the CDC guidelines, people are considered fully vaccinated (1) two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or (2) two-weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. This means that a person is not considered fully vaccinated until they have received their full dosage (one or two shots, depending on the vaccine) and two weeks have passed since their only or second shot. Until someone is fully vaccinated, it is recommended to keep taking all prevention steps, such as wearing a mask, staying 6-feet away from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and washing hands often.
Under the CDC Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,
- Fully vaccinated people can:
- gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask;
- gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19;
- refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
- For now, fully vaccinated people should:
- still take the aforementioned preventative measures whenever they are in public, gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk;
- avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings;
- follow workplace guidance from individual employers;
- delay travel, and if they do travel, they still need to follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations;
- watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially after an exposure, and if symptoms present, get tested and stay home and away from others.
As the CDC continues to learn more, these recommendations will be updated, expanded upon and are certainly subject to change.
This summary is intended for informational purposes and is not to be utilized or interpreted as legal advice. The following links from the CDC and the Baker-Polito Administration provide more information about the interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people and the state re-opening plan.