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COVID-19: Massachusetts Issues New Business and Gathering Restrictions Effective December 13
Thursday, December 10, 2020

Effective December 13, in response to the continued surge of COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts will return statewide to Phase 3 Step 1 of its reopening plan and revert to previous limits on gathering size.

Order 58 mandates that all businesses authorized to be open comply with rules for Step 1 of Phase 3, rescinding Order 56. Businesses permitted to open only in Step 2 of Phase 3 (listed on Schedule A of the order) must close, including indoor venues used for live performances such as concert halls and theaters, and indoor recreational activities with high potential for contact such as laser tag, roller skating, and trampolines.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also announced changes to the capacity rules for businesses, which will revert to 40% (from 50%) for arcades and indoor and outdoor recreational businesses, gyms, libraries, museums, retail, offices, places of worship, common areas of lodging facilities, golf, and movie theaters. Restaurants will be subject to the following guidance:

  • Patrons must wear a mask at all times except when eating and drinking

  • Restaurants must seat no more than six patrons per table

  • Restaurants must impose a 90-minute time limit on tables

In gyms, patrons will be required to wear a mask at all times. In offices, employees must wear a mask at all times unless they are alone and in their own workspace. More information on the updates to sector-specific guidance will be available in our alert on business reopenings as they are issued.

Order 57, also effective December 13, will reduce capacity allowances for gathering size across the Commonwealth, rescinding Order 54, although many of the prior order’s provisions remain in place in the new order. Under Order 57, the following limitations apply for indoor and outdoor events, with no distinction in limits between low-risk and high-risk communities:

  • Social distancing of at least six feet between all participants, except for participants of the same household, regardless of total number of participants

  • Private residences: indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25

  • Event venues and public settings: indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 50

These limitations apply to all social, community, civic, public, and leisure events, as well as conferences, conventions, fundraisers, and other similar events. Such venues and events must comply with the gathering limitations in the order and the relevant sector-specific guidance, while other businesses must continue to comply with their applicable sector guidance.

Critically, workers and staff on-site to provide services to participants in these gatherings do not count toward the capacity limitations. Gatherings for religious activities and outdoor gatherings for political expression are also exempt, but indoor gatherings for either must follow applicable sector-specific capacity limitations. The operator or organizer of an outdoor event venue where more than 25 attendees are expected must provide notice to the local Board of Health.

Order 57 keeps in place the 9:30 pm curfew time by which all gatherings, regardless of size or location, must end, with the exception of religious and political gatherings. The order also incorporates and extends Order 55 requiring face coverings in public places for all persons over the age of five. The order also maintains the requirement for organizers of gatherings to report known positive COVID-19 cases to the local health department in that community and requires cooperation with contact tracing.

As with prior orders, the new restrictions in Order 57 do not apply to federal government entities, health care facilities, or workplaces or facilities with specialized functions such as polling places, public and private schools, residential and day schools for special needs students, or Department of Correction facilities.

Until December 13, the gathering size limit for outdoor events and in public settings remains at 100 for lower risk communities and 50 for all others.

Our alert on reopenings and rollbacks throughout the region is available here, and our alert regarding travel and quarantine restrictions is available here. We note that guidance for both changes frequently, so we encourage readers to check back regularly for updates, or refer to state websites.

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