Our Opinion: Filling in the blanks on state reopening

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There is frustration in the Berkshires with Gov. Baker's state reopening plan, which while admirably cautious doesn't provide answers to many questions and isn't fine-tuned by region. With the first of four phases underway, the governor and his pandemic team should flesh out some of the specifics sought by businesses and communities..

Dr. Alan Kulberg, who chairs the Pittsfield Board of Health, said a conference call with state officials Tuesday was "less enlightening" than he hoped in terms of specific answers to questions raised by the governor's reopening plan announced Monday. ("Berkshire health officials 'cautiously optimistic' amid slowing coronavirus cases," Eagle, May 20.) Businesses with limited contact with customers are a big part of the early reopening but they are asked to set up COVID-19 protocols based on state guidelines that are generic in many areas, such as how many customers are allowed into a business and how social distancing can be maintained.

Financially hard-hit restaurant owners whose establishments will be included in Phase 2 want some idea of what will be required of them so they can prepare and are understandably disappointed that they aren't getting this information. ("Berkshire eateries, eager to reopen, face more questions than answers," Eagle, May 20.) The Eagle has expressed concern that there is no process to review and remove reopening rules that prove ineffectual or outdated.

There is push-back in the eastern end of the state from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley who believe that the reopening is too hasty. This does not appear to be a concern in the rural Berkshires where new coronavirus cases are now rare but is a legitimate concern in hard-hit eastern Massachusetts. By not taking regional differences into consideration, the Baker administration's plan will inevitably create gaps and different complaints from different parts of the state.

Reopening a state's economy following a shutdown caused by a pandemic is unprecedented and other states have run into difficulties as well. While the governor needs to fine-tune the reopening and learn from the Phase 1 process in moving forward on the other phases, businesses and communities will have to exercise patience as well, as eager as they are to recoup financial losses and return to some semblance of normality. On Wednesday, the governor emphasized that no business owner should open before they are comfortable regardless of which phase they are in.

Berkshire County has done well in flattening the COVID-19 curve. A backslide after coming this far could have tragic consequences. While we await more information from the state let's all continue to abide by the practices that enabled the Berkshires to flatten the curve over the last few difficult weeks to assure there is no regression and the county can reopen as smoothly as possible.



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