One day after Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. announced that the state would be further tightening the restrictions on retail stores and restaurants due to climbing COVID-19 numbers, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive officer called the move a “crushing mandate” for local businesses.
Wendy K. Northcross made her comment during a news conference with the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force on Wednesday, December 23.
She said while the mandate is bad news for businesses, it was not wholly unexpected, as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths spike statewide. December has now become the third-deadliest month for the virus since the outbreak began in March. New case totals for the month are on track to double what was seen in November.
Starting the day after Christmas, most businesses in the state will be required to reduce capacity to 25 percent in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 after the holiday.
Gov. Baker said the new measure will take effect Saturday and will be in place for at least two weeks.
The restrictions include restaurants, retail stores and supermarkets, as well as close-contact personal services such as hair and nail salons, places of worship, offices, libraries, fitness centers and museums, among others. Workers and staff do not count toward the capacity limits in restaurants, retail stores, places of worship and close-contact personal services.
Social gatherings will also be limited during this time to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. These limits apply to private residences, event venues and public spaces.
Ms. Northcross said this decision will be hard on local businesses.
“It’s a very crushing mandate to get once again, but not unexpected,” she said. “There’s been a big sigh of resignation in the business community.”
However, she said the upside to the announcement is that there is an end date as well as the promise of some financial assistance coming to businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.
She said restaurants are going to be given additional considerations such as added money to cover payroll.
Gov. Baker announced on Wednesday that the state will be granting $668 million to small businesses across the state. Some of those funds could be distributed as early as next week. The grants are being funded by state funds as well as from money that had previously been allocated to the state through federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
This funding is in addition to the $49 million in grants announced on Monday that will be given to minority small-business owners.
The first round of money from the latest grants will be distributed to businesses that had applied for the small business grant program in the fall but have not yet been funded. Another round of applications will be accepted over the course of two weeks, starting on December 31. Businesses that applied in the fall do not need to apply again.
The application can be found at www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org.
Gov. Baker said this money will provide grants up to $75,000 to help businesses pay for payroll, operating costs, utilities, rent and other debts.
Beginning Saturday, December 26,hospitals are also being directed to postpone or cancel any nonessential in-patient elective invasive procedures. This order does not impact preventive care including but not limited to mammograms, colonoscopies and pediatric well visits.
The governor said the healthcare system in the state is under significant strain at this time as a result of the COVID-19 spike following the Thanksgiving holiday. He said intensive care beds across the state were at 67 percent occupancy before Thanksgiving and are now at 82 percent occupancy.
Gov. Baker said that unless residents take the restrictions and guidelines seriously, the healthcare situation could become much worse after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito asked that residents support businesses in their communities in the days leading up to and following the holidays by buying gift cards and items from local shops and restaurants and by ordering takeout from local restaurants.
When asked why the administration was making the decision to further reduce capacity when private gatherings appear to be driving the spread of the virus, the governor said officials are looking to reduce movement of people in the days between Christmas and New Year’s. He said people usually use that week to catch up with people over food, drinks or coffee, since many people are not working over that week.
He said his administration is also looking to send a message to residents that the virus and its spread need to be taken seriously.
Gov. Baker said they chose to start the restrictions the day after Christmas because they know and hope that residents will safely attend their traditional holiday faith services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Due to high call volumes from people looking for COVID-19 testing, a new phone number has been provided for residents to call to schedule testing at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds site in Falmouth and the Cape Cod Melody Tent site in Hyannis.
People should now call 508-534-7102 to schedule testing. Lori Jewett, chief operating officer of Cape Cod Hospital and vice president of operations for Cape Cod Healthcare, said 12 people have been added to answer the phone, so wait times from here on out should be decreased.
The phone line will also have a series of prompts to make sure people are being sent to the right representatives. For example, people who are seeking asymptomatic testing for travel purposes will follow one prompt, while people who are looking for a test but do not have a primary care physician will follow another.
Cape Cod Healthcare president and chief executive officer Michael K. Lauf acknowledged that the testing has been off to a bumpy start but said it has seen improvements since the test sites opened last week.
By The Numbers
In the past week, a total of 519 people on Cape Cod have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
A total of 12 people have died in the past week.
As of Wednesday, the hospitals on Cape Cod were treating 37 patients with the virus, four of whom were in intensive care, Mr. Lauf said.
While numbers are on the rise, Mr. Lauf said Cape Cod Healthcare is prepared for a surge in hospitalizations, to the point where his staff is ready in the event that the number of people hospitalized were to double overnight.
“We have a lot of plans in place to handle the surge,” he said.
Sandwich Health Agent David Mason warned residents that recovering from COVID-19, even for the young, can take an extended time for some people who continue suffering from impacts such as fatigue and shortness of breath for a month or more.
He said not everyone just bounces back after COVID-19.
Mr. Mason said 30 percent of all people who contract COVID-19 will have lingering effects of the disease. He called such people “long-haulers.”
Common symptoms among long-haulers include ongoing fatigue, joint pain, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping and brain fog.