Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker reported that there has been “a 300% increase in daily positive case rates since Labor Day, a 150% increase in daily hospitalizations since Labor Day, and a lot of concern in the health care and hospital community about what this trend will mean if it keeps running for another eight to 10 weeks.” On November 2, Governor Baker implemented a stricter set of COVID-19 regulations to combat the rising cases in Massachusetts, as well as nationwide. While some citizens fear that the restrictions will hurt local businesses, personal incomes, and social health, others appreciate Governor Baker’s efforts to manage the pandemic and believe the economy may suffer short term from the new restrictions, but it will only continue to suffer if the cases do not decrease.
According to NPR, there has been a dramatic 72.8% increase in positive cases over the last two weeks. Similarly, the CDC has stated that there has been over a 300% increase in 7-day average cases since Labor Day (a 7-day average of 391 cases on September 7, to a 7-day average of 2399 cases on November 17). Governor Baker cited people becoming too relaxed and complacent as reasons for the rise in cases, and that “if people would just wear these things [masks] religiously for 30 days, we could kill the virus.” Consequently, he enacted Order #54, on November 2nd, which outlined the following restrictions:
The first is reduced capacity for private gatherings: 10 people are allowed if held inside and 25 people allowed if held outside.
The second restriction places a curfew of 9:30 for when all gatherings must end, including the closure of nonessential businesses, and a stay at home advisory between the hours of 10pm and 5am.
Finally, it requires that any known positive COVID cases from gatherings must be reported to a local health department.
Along with the restrictions, the Governor announced that there will be greater enforcement of masks outside, even if there is a distance greater than 6 feet. According to Mass Gov these new restrictions will be enforced “by local health and police departments and specifies that fines for violating the gathering order will be $500 for each person above the limit at a particular gathering.” These restrictions limit private gatherings, as well as hours of operation for stores and restaurants, it does not however impact schools.
COVID-19 has left many people without a job or a sure source of income, and there is fear around whether the new restrictions will add to this. In Massachusetts alone, there has been a 10% decrease in employment since February, a change of around 370 thousand jobs, according to a study by the UNH school of Public Policy. This decrease is one of the highest in the United States. One of the ways that the new restrictions will impact local businesses is the strict curfew: restaurants rely on late night seatings for a portion of their income, similarly with waiters and waitresses. With the new curfew, final seating times will change, and they will lose money. On November 5th, Charlie Baker announced on Twitter the implementation of Order #54 and the new measure being taken. The replies to his tweets are full of worried and angry citizens who believe the measures are either unnecessary or will hurt their personal income and the local economy. The measures taken to end the spread of the virus have already increased unemployment, and the even stricter measures may exacerbate this. Others worry that the restrictions will take a toll on their mental health, as gatherings are limited and masks are mandatory in all outdoor spaces.
While the unemployment rate is high and fears of greater economic recession are corroborated, the reality of the COVID-19 spike remains true. Governor Charlie Baker is attempting to get the cases under control sooner rather than later, which may help the economy more. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “with the U.S. economy reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say the more effective way to help the economy recover is by significantly reducing the number of infections, so that more people feel comfortable going to stores, restaurants, schools and other workplaces.” The new restrictions may hurt the economy in the short run, but the strict measures could end up being the more helpful tool for the eventual revitalization of the Massachusetts economy.
There are strong arguments both for and against the new restrictions imposed on Massachusetts. The goal of both sides is the overall wellbeing of the state, its economy, and its citizens, but with different ideas on how to achieve this. Governor Baker’s new restrictions may strain local businesses, but it will be worth it if it means lives are saved. The prevailing mindset seems to be that the economy can and will recover, but those affected by COVID may not.