Gov. Charlie Baker announces that Massachusetts would soon advance to Step 2 of Phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan in Salem on Feb. 25. (Photo courtesy Joshua Qualls/Governor’s Press Office)

The Baker-Polito administration announced today that Massachusetts will return to Step 2 of Phase 3 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan on Monday, March 1, and will transition to Step 1 of Phase 4 three weeks later, on March 22.

At a press event in Salem, Gov. Charlie Baker said the steps to further reopen the Commonwealth’s economy were being taken because public health metrics continue to trend in a positive direction, including drops in average daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, while vaccination rates continue to increase.

The administration released its reopening plan on May 18, 2020, conditioning any progress on sustained improvements in public health data. The state had advanced to Step 2 of Phase 3 last October, but returned to the previous step on Dec. 13 in response to an increase in new COVID infections and hospitalizations following the Thanksgiving holiday. The step back reduced capacities across a broad range of sectors and tightened several other workplace restrictions.

The change effective on March 1 will make the following updates related to businesses, activities and capacities:
• Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will be permitted to host musical performances. Six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table, and 90-minute limits remain in place.
• Indoor performance venues such as concert halls, theaters and other indoor performance spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons.
• Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact (e.g., laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, obstacle courses) will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity.
• Capacity limits across all sectors that have them will be raised to 50%, excluding employees.

Residents must continue to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and are encouraged to avoid contact outside of their immediate households.

The state’s travel advisory and other public health orders remain in effect.

As always, individual cities and towns have the option to choose to remain in an earlier stage of the reopening process.

View COVID-19 Order No. 65, signed today, to advance the Commonwealth to Step 2 of Phase 3 of the reopening plan

Gathering changes and Phase 4
The governor said the advancement to Step 1 of Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, effective March 22, will be contingent on continued improvement in public health metrics. The change would open a range of previously closed business sectors under tight capacity restrictions that are expected to be adjusted over time if favorable trends in the public health data continue.

The following industries would be permitted to operate at a 12% capacity limit after submitting a plan to the Department of Public Health:
• Indoor and outdoor stadiums
• Arenas
• Ballparks

Also effective on March 22, gathering limits for event venues and in public settings would increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.

Dance floors would be permitted at weddings and other events only, and overnight camps would be allowed to operate this coming summer.

Exhibition and convention halls may also begin to operate, following gatherings limits and event protocols. Other Phase 4 sectors must remain closed.

Business relief grants
The administration also announced today more than $49 million in awards to 1,108 additional small businesses in the eighth round of COVID-19 relief grants administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.

These new awards are the result of work by the MGCC to engage with applicants that meet sector and demographic priorities, but are missing certain documents that are necessary to be considered for an award.

The grants may be used to help with expenses like payroll, benefits, utilities and rent.

To date, the administration has awarded more than $563 million in direct financial support to 12,320 businesses impacted by the pandemic through the Small Business and Sector-Specific Grant Programs.

More than half of grantees are restaurants, bars, caterers, operators of personal services like hair and nail salons, and independent retailers. More than half are women- and minority-owned enterprises.