Put down the pencils. Hang the costumes in the closet. And put the blade covers back on the skates. Lest anyone forget, the cororavirus is giving Massachusetts a not so gentle reminder that it never really left.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh pulled back on in-person learning this past week, taking Boston Public Schools completely remote as transmission of the coronavirus continues to increase in the city.
The decision was made just two weeks after Walsh said the negative impacts for some high-needs students of not returning to the classroom could not be "mitigated" the way the risk of spreading the virus could.
The exit from the classroom in Boston earned the city a mention on the presidential debate stage Thursday night where President Donald Trump continued to insist the country had turned a corner in its fight against the virus. Gov. Charlie Baker hasn't gone that far, and doesn't agree with the president on much these days, but on the issue of schools the two Republicans seem to be reading from the same page.
Baker said he wouldn't "Monday morning quarterback" Walsh's decision for Boston, but said again that it's not schools where the virus is spreading. Instead, the governor continued to blame social gatherings, primarily of 19- to 39-year-olds, where masks are not being worn and distancing not observed.
In Massachusetts, the daily new case count almost reached 1,000 on Thursday and the seven-day weighted average positive test rate ticked up to 1.5 percent as 77 cities and towns are now in the state's highest-risk "red" category. And his own Department of Public Health on Thursday night decided to shut down ice skating rinks due to clusters of infections the state has observed linked to hockey games, practices and tournaments.
The state, however, is far from being in retreat.
In fact, Baker last week called attention to what his administration described as an ongoing $775 million economic stimulus program that included $115 million in just available funding, the highlight of which was a new $50.8 million grant program for hard hit small businesses.
"To be clear, there's no substitute for the size and scope that a federal aid package could deliver. But that doesn't seem to be in the offing and we certainly don't believe that we can wait," Baker said
While Baker continued to beat the "buy, shop and dine locally" drum, on the North Shore, Salem was looking for the opposite of a jolt to its economy. At least until after this month is over.
With Baker back for the second time in two weeks, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll pleaded with tourists to stay away, concerned that the ghosts, ghouls and goblins flocking to the Witch City to celebrate All Hallows' Eve were creating a petri dish for COVID-19. Billboards have even been added to state highways announcing the city as closed on October weekends.
"This is not the year to come to Salem, this is not the year to visit," Driscoll said.
Stores are being asked to lock up early the next two weekends, parking lots ordered to close and MBTA trains will bypass the city on Fridays and Saturdays before November.
"I really feel like the fun police here, right? It's the cats-are-biting-the-dogs sorts of scenarios," Driscoll said.
Back on Beacon Hill, most legislators were nowhere to be found last week, doing the work of their district or making sure they get reelected to stay long enough to see the state through this pandemic. A group of legislators on the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, however, are deeply immersed in budget planning, and dug deeper into the weeds this week when they hosted a hearing on Baker's revised budget proposal for fiscal 2021.
Baker has downgraded his expectations for tax revenues this year by $3.6 billion, and offered an updated $45.5 billion spending plan that used a lot of one-time revenue sources to avoid the harshest of cuts.
Some legislators said they were comfortable with Baker's proposed $1.35 billion withdrawal from the state's reserves, which would leave about $2.2 billion for next year. "That makes you very comfortable because that's what the rainy day is all about," said Rep. Paul Donato, a Medford Democrat and assistant majority leader.
But House and Senate leaders were definitely not ready to put their full stamp of approval on Baker's revised budget, or offer a timeline for when they might offer their own "The governor proposes, the Legislature disposes," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, repeating what has become a go-to line for him in recent weeks.
Baker's budget chief Michael Heffernan said the administration is focused on stabilizing state services during this crisis, recognizing that people need government the most during times of crisis. That means the administration will not be looking to lay people off or cut back on eligibility for safety net programs, as long as something dramatic doesn't wildly change the state's fortunes, he said.
Baker has asked for a budget to be done by Thanksgiving, and while that's technically still possible, though unlikely, the one thing that's certain is that nothing will be done before election day on Nov. 3.
With less than two weeks until voting ends in Massachusetts, more than a quarter of the state's 4.6 million registered voters have already cast their ballots. Of the 1.3 million votes cast, almost 890,000 have been by mail, with the rest of the voters turning up in person since early voting opened on Oct. 17.
So for a good chunk of the electorate, Baker was too late when he made his endorsement this week of Republican Kevin O'Connor in the Dover attorney's long shot race against U.S. Sen. Edward Markey. In a hand-held cellphone video, Baker said O'Connor would bring "feet-on-the-ground" representation to Washington.
But Baker's endorsement of O'Connor was perhaps more notable for the fact that he chose to back another Republican for Senate, along with Susan Collins of Maine. If O'Connor were to win, the odds of the GOP retaining control of the U.S. Senate would increase greatly, and it can't be assumed that's what Baker wants, even if he is trying to shore up his right flank.
Baker has been frustrated with both parties in Washington, and particularly his own. He has criticized Congress's inability to get a stimulus deal done, and disagrees with the decision of his party to press forward with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
He is also not voting for President Donald Trump for reelection.