Massachusetts Takes Further Steps Towards a New Normal


Image/ Boston Globe

Katie Gillis, Feature Editor

Since President Biden’s inauguration, he has been pushing for faster vaccine distribution in hopes of returning the country to a “new normal” sometime soon. His goal is to have all adults in the United States become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before May 1. 

In accordance with this plan, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has been urging the state to take further steps towards reopening. As of Monday, March 22, Massachusetts has officially entered its fourth and final phase of its reopening plan.

This plan will allow stadiums and convention halls to open with a 12% capacity limit. This means that arenas like TD Garden and Fenway Park will be open, allowing fans to attend Celtics, Bruins and eventually Red Sox games. Public gathering limits have been increased to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors for events such as weddings and other parties. 

The state is also adding in another group that is eligible for the vaccine with this next phase. Several thousand workers, including restaurant, food service, grocery and transit workers, are now eligible. Additionally, anyone over the age of 60 is now permitted to receive the vaccine. 

Baker has also announced the timeline for when the remaining Massachusetts residents will become eligible for the vaccine. Starting April 5, anyone over the age of 55 or anybody with at least one qualifying medical condition will be eligible. These conditions include asthma, cancer, down syndrome, pregnancy, obesity and several others. Then, all remaining residents ages 16 years or older will become eligible on April 19. 

The state also expects a shipment of over 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive in the coming weeks. Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is single dose, it will allow distribution to happen a lot faster. Additionally, it makes getting the vaccine easier for those who are unable to get to vaccine sites due to medical conditions or other circumstances. 

Massachusetts aims to have 4 million of its 6.9 million residents vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. Baker believes the state can reach that goal by July 4. As of now, over a million residents have been vaccinated, so the state is moving steadily towards that milestone. 

However, many are skeptical and believe that pushing Massachusetts to reopen further is not the best idea, as cases are slowly on the rise again. The Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) wrote a letter to Governor Baker just days before the fourth phase was scheduled to begin, urging him to reconsider. 

Moving to the next stage of reopening before sufficient numbers of people have been vaccinated is both premature and reckless,” said MPHA Executive Director Carlene Pavlos. 

Many other health experts across the nation have spread similar messages, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease official and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” Dr. Walensky said. “I understand the temptation to do this—70,000 cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago—but we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths.”

However, Governor Baker is unwaveringly determined to push further towards reopening. He believes that it was necessary to make adjustments to some of the state’s protocols as vaccine distribution increases. 

Baker’s announcement signals the light at the end of a long tunnel, whether his plan is successful or not. With vaccine rollout increasing all across the nation, our “new normal” is finally beginning to look like a reality instead of just a hope.