This page has advocated for vigilance, social distancing and regular mask wearing as crucial tools to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And generally, we've backed Gov. Charlie Baker as he has announced orders and recommendations to help stop the spread.
His latest orders, outlined Monday, raise questions about whether he is placing limits on too many aspects of the larger community without the statistics to back them up.
As the state passed the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths either confirmed or suspected from COVID-19, Baker looked at the rising number of positive cases and issued new executive orders. He zeroed in on some businesses, ordering restaurants to stop table service by 9:30 p.m. and gyms, casinos and liquor stores to close by that hour; he also lowered the maximum size of gatherings allowed in private homes and public spaces.
Baker urged a curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and full-time mask wearing outdoors, even when abiding by social distancing guidelines. In other words, always wear a mask outside and stay home at night unless you must go out.
"What we should not do is shut down the economy and schools to deal with this," Baker said, which seems to be at odds with putting curfews on restaurants, gyms and casinos.
The problem, the governor said, is complacency. That's been the problem from the get-go.
"The simple truth is this," he said, "too many of us have become complacent in our daily lives."
As part of these orders, Baker also lowered the limit on gatherings in private homes to 10 (when inside) and 25 (when outside), presumably to restrict the Thanksgiving guest list.
But looking closely at what he said on Monday, we're puzzled at placing tighter restrictions on businesses and mandating full-time outdoor mask wearing, as well as the earlier shutdown of all state hockey rinks, for example.
Most food establishments have been hurting for months after the initial forced closure of businesses in the spring and limits on indoor seating. Many restaurants went to great expense to build in safeguards and to buy or rent outdoor furniture to take advantage of the warmer months. It has always been in their interest to keep the health of staff and customers at the top of the list. After all, if anyone gets sick, the whole business might have to shut down.
Mandated mask wearing at all times outdoors also begs the question whether the statistics support tightening down on something that most people already do. It's a reach to threaten fines for people who can apply common sense to situations where they are alone or outdoors and far away from other people.
Closure of hockey rinks is also an example of broadly targeting youth and adult hockey leagues, most of which live under stringent safety and contact tracing protocols because the organizers want to keep everyone healthy and on the ice. If the positive COVID-19 statistics point to ice rinks as the problem, state officials haven't provided sufficient evidence to back up the closures.
If the problem is complacency and crowds, then crack down on gatherings inside or outside homes and other venues. That's where education and enforcement should be focused.
Baker's orders include potential fines for noncompliance and authorize local boards of health and health agents – with police, if necessary – to investigate reports of large backyard crowds or suspiciously large indoor get-togethers.
The governor is right to conjure the sobering scenario of our hospitals and medical staffs being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as cold weather forces people indoors and complacency continues the spread. So focus on discouraging Thanksgiving get-togethers and the class reunions that traditionally take place over the holidays. It's already riskier to travel, so encourage people to set up family Zoom calls on Thanksgiving with the hope that at this time next year we can all be together again, safely vaccinated against the virus.
Putting curfews on businesses already struggling to survive and mandating further mask usage while limiting what appear to be safe options for recreation can only make residents skeptical of what the Baker administration might propose next.