Chamber News

Needham / Newton
December 15, 2020 Likes Comments

Another step back as Newton, other cities, add restrictions

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller is wise to collaborate with other mayors in the region on steps to curtail the regional rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Otherwise, we’re left with a confusing quilt of policies that can literally vary from one block to the next.
 
Still the modified return to Phase 2, Step 2 of the state’s reopening plan will be hard on local businesses; especially our health and fitness clubs at a time when they traditionally see a spike in activity as customers look to fulfill new year’s resolutions.
 
“While Newton has better numbers than some other communities, we are part of a region dealing with a surge of this pandemic,” Fuller said in a statement.
 
“While this is a difficult decision to make for those impacted businesses and employees, we urgently need to ensure our health care workers in Newton and regional facilities have the capacity to care for everyone in need.”
 
Phase 2, step 2 was last in place on June 10. Boston, Brockton, Lynn, Somerville, Winthrop and Arlington have also agreed to the roll backs.
 
More municipalities are expected to follow, the Globe reports.
 
We probably shouldn't be surprised if Gov. Charlie Baker makes additional state wide roll backs between now and Christmas as well. Yesterday was a historic day, but also a horrific one.
 
What’s changing
 
Businesses required to close in Newton starting Friday (Dec. 18) through at least Jan. 8. (Boston's restrictions begin tomorrow.)
  • Movie theaters
  • Fitness centers and health clubs, including gyms using alternative spaces (except for youth 18 and under) One-on-one personal training sessions are allowed with protocols
  • Indoor recreational and athletic facilities (except for youth 18 and under) This does not apply to collegiate or professional sports, which are regulated by the state. Indoor pools may remain open for all ages under pre-registration format structure limited to one person per swim lane
  • Indoor event spaces (meeting rooms, ballrooms, private party rooms, and social clubs). Private social clubs may continue to operate, if they serve food, consistent with restaurant guidance. Higher education institutions may continue to utilize indoor event spaces as classroom space
  • Indoor historical spaces and sites
These Newton businesses may remain in operation with these restrictions through at least Jan. 8:
  • Indoor dining in restaurants may remain in operation with restricted bar seating. Ancillary activities such as pool tables, darts, trivia etc. are prohibited. Bar seating may be permitted only with written approval by Newton’s Board of License Commissioners. Licensees must submit a Bar Seating Plan that protects both employees and others seated at the bar for review and approval. Face coverings are mandatory at all times unless the patron is eating or drinking even if maintaining six (6) feet of social distance from the server, bartender, or other parties or patrons.
  • Office spaces may remain open at 40 percent capacity.
  • Non-athletic instructional classes in arts, education and life sciences for persons 18 years and older are allowed for groups of ten or under.
“We intend to re-evaluate this order in three weeks on or before Jan. 8 and will announce at that point whether these restrictions are to be lifted, modified or maintained,” Fuller said.
 
Needham: No changes for now
 
For now, at least, Needham is not planning on following Newton.
 
Director of Public Health Tim McDonald told me last night that the data does not warrant added restrictions. While Needham does have some small and mid-sized fitness clubs, it does not have any theaters, indoor recreational facilities or the other venues were the focal point of the roll back by several mayors.
 
“We will continue to monitor cases and make decisions based on the data. To date, the biggest driver of COVID cases continues to be indoor gatherings among people who do not live in the same household.
 
McDonald said he has not seen any spread as a result of indoor dining.
 
“We cannot underscore this enough – you can do your part to help stop the spread by wearing a mask whenever you are outside of your home, limiting your social circle and keeping your distance,” McDonald added.
 
MBTA forges ahead with cuts
 
The MBTA proceeded with significant service reductions for early next year, cutting subway and bus trips, some commuter rail weekend service, ferry schedules and more in an attempt to reduce costs, State House News reports.
 
In March, 20 bus routes will be eliminated; frequency will drop 20 percent on non-essential bus routes and 5 percent on essential bus routes; gaps between Red, Orange and Green Line trains will increase 20 percent; Blue Line trains will run up to 5 percent less frequently; and more commuter rail cuts will arrive, including possible reductions in service after 9 p.m.
 
The board made some changes to the proposal, keeping some commuter rail service after 9 p.m. and agreeing to freeze fare hikes and to set a date to decide if service should be restored.
 
Temporarily commuter rails cuts start too
 
Reduced service on the commuter rail began yesterday due to low employee availability because of COVID-19 absences.
 
Regular train service includes 541 daily trains, but as of December 14, Commuter Rail will operate 246 daily trains. Weekend trains will continue to operate on a regular schedule. Schedules are posted on MBTA.com and more information on Reduced Service Schedules can be found here.
 
Today’s three need to knows
  • Watertown is offering free, by appointment, COVID-19 testing for Watertown residents. No medical referral is needed. Details here.
  • It’s Open Enrollment time for the Massachusetts Health Connector. The deadline for 1/1/2021 enrollments is Dec. 23. Information here.
Newton business can now request curbside parking
 
A reminder to Newton retailers and restaurants: You can now request to have a parking space near or in front of your place of business designated by the city for curbside pickup.
Complete this form to reserve a parking meter space in front of your business for short-term, 15 minute parking. The request process includes getting written consent from immediate abutters to your business.
 
COVID enforcement difficult on restaurant workers
 
A recent survey found that 80 percent of Massachusetts restaurant workers report experiencing or witnessing hostile behavior from customers in response to staff enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, and 58 percent report experiencing such hostility at least weekly
 
According to the Massachusetts report from the labor group One Fair Wage nearly half of survey respondents reporting an uptick in the frequency of unwanted sexualized comments from customers since the onset of the pandemic.
 
“Workers frequently are subjected to sexualized comments from customers, the majority of which were a request from male customers that women service workers remove their mask so that the men could judge their looks, and, implicitly, determine their tips on that basis,” states the report.
 
Meanwhile….its deja vu all over again in D.C.
 
Yesterday that bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress proposed splitting its $908 billion coronavirus relief package into two parts: $748 billion would cover another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, money for schools, vaccine distribution and other widely supported items.
 
A second $160 billion package includes more money for state and local governments and protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to the Hill.
 
"The next several days are going to bring about one of two outcomes. Either 100 senators will be here shaking our heads, slinging blame and offering excuses about why we still have not been able to make a law ... or we will break for the holidays having sent another huge dose of relief out the door for the people who need it," Senate President Mitch McConnell said.
 
In other words, don't hold your breath, right?
 
Be back tomorrow.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously

 

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