GOV. CHARLIE BAKER suggested for the first time Monday that he may lift the COVID-19 state of emergency at the same time as he allows businesses to fully reopen, which is now scheduled for August 1.
Baker said his administration is still figuring out various issues around the emergency order, which has allowed him to put in place a wide range of state guidelines governing everything from gathering sizes to business closures. But, Baker said, “It’s our view that by the time we get to August 1 … that would certainly be a time at which we’d go to some sort of standard that would be a traditional public health standard, not something that would operate under the rubric of an [emergency order].”
Baker made his comment at a Monday press conference after visiting a vaccination site at Manet Community Health Center in Quincy.
The governor’s announcement came on the same day that a group of business owners and pastors said they intended to challenge Baker’s COVID-19 emergency authority before the US Supreme Court. The business owners and religious leaders, working with the New Civil Liberties Alliance and the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, lost a similar challenge before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in December.
Michael DeGrandis, an attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said the US Supreme Court may be open to the Massachusetts appeal given a 5-4 decision in November blocking New York Gov. Mario Cuomo from placing restrictions on religious services to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The New York decision seemed to run counter to earlier decisions on cases in California and Nevada. The SJC in Massachusetts relied in part on the earlier California decision.
Even if it is successful, the appeal to the Supreme Court is unlikely to have any immediate effect in Massachusetts because of Baker’s decision to lift most COVID-19 emergency restrictions by August 1. DeGrandis said there’s still value in pushing ahead.
“The important thing about this lawsuit is to make sure this never happens again,” he said of the emergency orders. Asked about the lawsuit, Baker said he does not comment on ongoing litigation. But he said the advisories Massachusetts has put in place have been consistent with federal public health recommendations and what other states have done.
Baker also defended Massachusetts’ cautious pace of reopening, which he said was based on public health data. He said that due to that slower approach to reopening over the past year, “we have not had some of the blowback that happened in other states, when they opened up more quickly.”
The governor did reiterate that if people continue to get vaccinated and COVID metrics improve, he could move the full reopening date up earlier than August 1.
Baker to meet with Biden
Baker also announced that he plans to join a bipartisan group of six governors who plan to meet virtually with President Biden on Tuesday.
Baker said in a tweet that he will “highlight MA’s nation-leading progress in vaccinating our residents” in his meeting with the Democratic president.
Baker is a moderate Republican who has frequently touted his ability to work across party lines.
At his press conference, Baker said the event is “basically to talk about how to reach and deliver vaccines to either folks that are part of the hesitant community or folks who are part of communities that are hard to reach and need more help to get vaccinated.” The governor said he will talk about state partnerships with community health centers, mobile clinics, and hospital-run pop-up vaccine clinics in places like churches and community centers.
According to state statistics, 73 percent of Massachusetts adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That comes out to 60 percent of the total population, counting children who are ineligible for the vaccine. As of Sunday, just over 4 million people in Massachusetts had gotten their first shot and over 2.9 million people were fully vaccinated.
According to data from Bloomberg and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts ranks number two for first doses and total doses administered per capita among all states, and first among states with populations over 5 million. It exceeds the national average for doses given to elderly residents, black residents, and Hispanic residents.