BOSTON — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations still on the rise, Gov. Charlie Baker is extending capacity limits on business and public and private gatherings to prevent further spread of the virus.

Baker said reduced capacity for most businesses and limits on public and private gatherings will continue for at least another two weeks. The tightened restrictions, set by Baker last month, had been set to expire Monday.

The Republican governor said Thursday the tougher restrictions must stay in place for the time being to avoid a further economic shutdown and ease the burden on the health care system. Most businesses are limited to 25% of their typical occupancy.

“We know that extending those restrictions for businesses, especially small businesses, is a lot to ask,” Baker said at a press conference. “But we need to stay in this game a little longer, especially during this most crucial period, to stop the spread of the virus and build a bridge to the vaccines.”

The extended restrictions affect a swath of industries including retail, restaurants, offices and entertainment venues such as casinos, museums and fitness centers.

Public and private gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Baker previously rolled back reopening plans to Phase 3, Step 1, which required some entertainment venues to close and tightened capacity restrictions.

Additionally, a statewide “stay at home” advisory remains in effect, along with a mask mandate and curfews for most businesses, which Baker imposed last month.

Baker has resisted calls to completely shut down the economy and close schools, as he did last year in response to the first wave of the virus. He argues it would do more harm than good.

Massachusetts has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with more than 386,052 infections and 12,563 deaths since the outbreak began, according to the state Department of Public Health.

On Wednesday, there were 6,419 new coronavirus cases and 99 more deaths reported in the state. The seven-day weighted average of positive tests in Massachusetts is 8.25%. More than 2,400 people remain hospitalized.

Some business leaders have criticized the tighter restrictions, saying they unfairly punish operations that are already struggling and will slow economic recovery.

A recent survey of small business owners by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business suggest 1 in 4 will close amid the pandemic.

Last month, the Baker administration rolled out a $668 million relief fund that provides grants up to $75,000 for qualifying small businesses.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Thursday the state has already doled out more than $117 million to 2,500 businesses. The deadline to apply for the grant program is Jan. 15.

“Each grant is aimed at helping Massachusetts businesses’ literally keep the lights on, make their payroll and get through these tough winter months,” Polito said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

 

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