More stringent coronavirus rules and ramped up enforcement take effect Tuesday in a crackdown by Gov. Charlie Baker as the state sees an uptick in cases.
Baker announced Friday he was pumping the brakes on the state's reopening plan and authorizing all state and local police to enforce the orders.
In response to recent large gatherings, the size of permitted outdoor gatherings has been cut in half, from 100 to 50 people, in both public and private spaces. The limit on indoor gatherings remains at 25.
Baker announced several other steps, including tightened rules for eateries. Baker said bars “masquerading” as restaurants must close down and released updated guidance to eliminate ambiguity around the rules.
"One of the things that's come up a number of times is that pretzels and potato chips meets the food service requirement. It clearly doesn't," Baker said. "What we tried to do with the amendment of the order is make absolutely clear you need to be serving food that's prepared on-site and the people who are in your venue need to order and eat food if they're going to order a drink."
He established a new COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team to coordinate intervention efforts in high-risk communities. Violators could face fines or cease and desist orders.
"If you just, say, 'I have pretzels. I have potato chips and I have a hot dog and I don't care if anybody orders or eats anything,' that's not a restaurant," Bob Luz of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association said.
The second step of Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan is now indefinitely on hold, which would have involved indoor theater or concert hall performances, laser tag, roller skating, trampolines and obstacle courses.
In the first part of Phase 3, which began in early July, movie theaters, gyms, casinos, museums and more were allowed to reopen.
More Coverage on the Coronavirus Crackdown in Massachusetts
The crackdown comes as Massachusetts sees localized coronavirus outbreaks. The number of active COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts rose nearly 25% between July 29 and Aug. 5, and has been steady or climbing for nearly a month as new COVID-19 infections are once again outpacing recoveries.
Another 214 people tested positive for the new coronavirus and five more people died, Massachusetts health officials said Monday.
There have now been 8,519 deaths and 112,673 cases reported in the state, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, on average, is down slightly to 1.8%, having risen to 2.2% last week from a low of 1.7% last month.