COVID-19: Massachusetts Pauses Reopening, Rolls Back Allowable Gathering Size

In response to the statewide increase in COVID-19 transmission, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that he would be pausing some reopening measures and reimposing some restrictions. He issued Order 46, rescinding Order 44 and previous guidance for gathering size, effective August 11.

Governor Baker explained that Massachusetts was postponing indefinitely Step 2 of the current Phase 3 of its reopening plan. Step 2 would have allowed many of the venues allowed to open with outdoor-only operations in Step 1 to resume indoor activities, including playhouses, music venues, and indoor recreational facilities.

This order applies specifically to programs, celebrations, social outings, and similar events that draw together groups of people. This includes community, civic, public, leisure, sporting events, concerts, conferences, conventions, fundraisers, fairs, festivals, road races, and other similar events or activities. Governor Baker also announced the formation of a COVID-19 enforcement and intervention team to ensure rules are being followed in high-risk areas, using as an example “bars masquerading as restaurants” that would need to close.

Entities already permitted to open and subject to sector-specific rules are not subject to the revised indoor and outdoor limits in the order, which remain subject to social distancing of six feet between groups:

  • Indoor: Eight persons per 1,000 square feet, capped at 25 people in a single enclosed space
  • Outdoor: 25% of maximum permitted occupancy, or eight persons per 1,000 square feet if no occupancy limit on record, capped at 50 people in a single space

Critically, this order applies to both public and private venues, including private homes, backyards, parks, fields, and parking lots, but does not apply to large unenclosed public spaces like parks and beaches, subject to the sector-specific guidance below. Please refer to our previous alert for more information on reopenings and sector-specific guidance in Massachusetts and throughout the region.

The order also requires face coverings to be worn by all persons over the age of two when gathering in groups of more than 10 people, whether indoors or outdoors. 

The order does not apply to the following businesses, organizations, or activities:

  • Municipal legislative body, general court, or the judiciary
  • Federal government entities
  • Health care facilities or licensed health care providers
  • Workplaces or facilities providing the following functions:
    • Polling places
    • Public and private elementary and secondary schools, and residential and day schools for special needs students
    • Licensed, approved, or exempt child care programs and any emergency child care centers and emergency residential programs
    • Facilities operated by the Department of Correction or any sheriff, or operated, contracted, or licensed by the Department of Youth Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Public Health, or the Department of Developmental Services
    • Facilities and programs that provide safe spaces for the unstably housed such as homeless and domestic violence shelters

Violations of this order may result in a civil fine of up to $500. Further, after notice and a hearing, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission or other local licensing authority may suspend, revoke, or cancel a license upon proof that the licensee has violated or permitted a violation of the order.  Hotels have received citations for large gatherings, and the rate of citations and enforcement actions is likely to rise.  Separately from the order, Governor Baker also removed Rhode Island from the list of states exempt from self-quarantine when traveling to Massachusetts, but travel restrictions otherwise remain the same. Governor Baker noted that stricter measures were needed because of a decline in caution about the virus.

For questions on how these orders affect you or your business, please contact firm attorneys Kathleen HamannSarah Remes, or Melanie Conroy.