Our Opinion: Reopening plan lacks flexibility

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Going into Monday, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the last two states to at least partially reopen following lockdowns in reaction to the spread of COVID-19. Both announced reopening plans on Monday, and that admirable caution continues in the phased reopening of Massachusetts outlined by Gov. Baker. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts That said, there is a disappointing lack of flexibility that will need to be addressed.

Phase 1, the first of four phases, and titled "Start," will roll out in three parts over the rest of May. Some businesses in the manufacturing and construction industries will open this week, with a larger group, including car washes, pet groomers and salons, opening next week. This will put people back to work and give a boost to a stalled economy.

Importantly, all businesses, including the essential business that have remained open, must implement a COVID-19 control plan based on a state-sanctioned template. This self-certification process must be followed to avoid a backslide that could cause a return to lockdown days.

Gov. Baker plans to move on to each of the next three phases after three- or four-week increments but reserves the right to slow the process if there is a spike in new coronavirus cases. Some states that opened early are tapping the brakes, a process the governor hopes to avoid. The governor emphasized that for the reopening to succeed residents must continue to practice social distancing, wear facial coverings in public and wash and disinfect hands.

The Eagle had hoped that the governor would institute a regional approach to reopening, as has his New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, who divided his state into several regions that could reopen at different paces based on their progress under state guidelines. This acknowledges the differences among regions such as New York metro and the Adirondacks.

If the Massachusetts reopening proceeds smoothly this lack of a regional approach in Massachusetts won't matter. But it will be hugely unfair if an outbreak of COVID-19 in a Boston-area church or barbershop causes the closings of Berkshire churches or barbershops. Distinctions should be made among regions like Berkshire County, which have had relatively few cases of the virus, and Middlesex and Suffolk counties, which have been hit extremely hard.

Along those lines, the governor and his team failed to include a mechanism for businesses and communities to appeal rules and regulations that are not appropriate for their particular situations or simply become outdated. Inconsistencies and unexpected troubling results will surely arise. The reopening committee co-chaired by Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito could perhaps hear and act upon appeals, or appoint a group charged with those responsibilities.

It was disappointing that the governor did not include the Berkshires in his introduction last week of COVID-19 testing facilities at CVS pharmacies as testing is critical to combating the virus. The closest are in West Springfield and Northampton, reinforcing the conviction of many Berkshire residents that Beacon Hill believes that the Connecticut River marks the state's western boundary.

However, Gov. Baker has been to the Berkshires more than enough times to know differently. A CVS testing site would take some of the load off BMC and Fairview Hospital and perhaps contribute to keeping our caseloads low. We urge the governor to approach CVS about instituting a testing center at the CVS on West Street in Pittsfield.



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