Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down and advised residents to stay at home Monday in the most drastic step taken by the state yet to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The advisory — which comes as Massachusetts reports 646 confirmed cases and five deaths from the novel disease — will take effect Tuesday at noon. The measures will be in place until at least April 7.
Despite mounting pressure from lawmakers in recent days, Baker declined to order residents to shelter in place. He said at a State House news conference Monday that he “strongly” advises people over the age of 70 to stay at home.
The governor also announced a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, tightening from a previous restriction on gatherings of more than 25.
“Our goal is to slow the spread by limiting person-to-person contact,” Baker said. “A concerted effort now will help us get back to work and back to school.”
Last week, a group of 32 municipal and state officials sent a letter to Baker urging him to enact a stringent shelter in place order that would strip all out-of-home activity to “essential needs.” Baker denied having plans to issue such an order last Friday.
In the Monday press conference, Baker drew a distinction between his stay-at-home advisory and a shelter in place order.
“I do not believe I can or should order U.S. citizens to be confined to their homes for days on end,” Baker said in the conference. “What this means is that everyone can still buy food at the grocery store, get what they need at the pharmacy and, of course, take a walk around the block or at the park.”
Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, medical marijuana dispensaries, and restaurants serving takeout and delivery will remain open. Public transportation will also continue running, though Baker said it should only be used for essential travel.
Massachusetts is one of several states that have issued stay-at-home advisories.
“We’re advising people to use common sense with every step we take,” Baker said.
Baker said he would leave enforcement of the new measures up to local authorities.
He acknowledged that the order to close non-essential businesses could have an “incredible” impact on the local economy.
“It’s not lost on me, or anybody else in our administration, that many businesses — locally grown and owned by our neighbors and friends — are the businesses most unlikely to be able to put in place remote or telework policies,” he said. “But I also know that by taking this action now, we can significantly improve our position in this fight to slow the spread of this virus.”
—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.