Gov. Charlie Baker outlined a road map this week for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out a step-by-step approach to restoring business activity.
Businesses in an array of industries remain closed under executive orders, but Baker said the state could begin gradually easing those restrictions as soon as next Tuesday, when they are set to expire.
He cautioned that the pace of reopening will depend on public health data.
"The goal of the reopening plan is to methodically allow certain businesses, services and activities to resume while protecting public health and limiting a possible resurgence of new COVID-19 cases," Baker told reporters. "We have to ensure that when we take one step forward we don't take two steps back."
Baker said there have been "positive developments" in the data on COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, but the state isn't out of the woods yet.
As of Monday, there were 78,462 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and 5,108 deaths.
Baker said the state needs to see a drop in cases and deaths for at least 14 days before a stay-at-home advisory and business restrictions are lifted.
The guidelines he rolled out Monday make clear that a return of activity in one of the hardest hit states in the country will be drawn out over months, and that social distancing measures and other controls will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Each phase of the reopening plan could a last a month, or longer, depending on progress in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases.
During the first phase, the state would allow "limited industries" to reopen for business with "severe restrictions" to protect workers and customers.
A second phase would allow more businesses to reopen "with restrictions and capacity limits," while a third would let higher-risk companies resume operations.
The fourth and final phase, which the Baker administration called "the new normal," would require the widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A 17-member advisory board led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will issue a report next week outlining which businesses can initially reopen during each phase.
Any businesses that reopen would need to provide masks and other protective gear, install signage about preventing spread of the virus and require customers to practice strict social distancing by staying 6 feet apart.
Employees must also practice good hygiene and allow employers to monitor their temperatures.
Business groups welcomed the guidance and said they hope the first phase will get underway next Tuesday, when the state's restrictions are set to expire.
"Because if it is delayed much longer, many will run out of cash, and they hope not to have to close their doors forever," said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. "Small businesses are eager to reopen and help lead the way to economic recovery."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com