Charlie Baker files bill to allow beer and wine delivery, flexibility for municipalities

Gov. Charlie Baker is filing legislation to give cities and towns more flexibility in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including a measure to allow restaurants in the state to sell beer and wine with take out meals and delivery during the shutdown.

“There’s no question that these are challenging and unprecedented times,” Baker said during an update held in Gardner Auditorium at the State House. “I know the people of this great Commonwealth will meet this challenge as we always have – head on.”

Baker also announced that 10 additional labs are up and running in the effort to read results from coronavirus tests collected in Massachusetts, including Beth Israel Deaconess, the Mayo Clinic, Partners Health Care and Tufts and others. The newly added lab capacity is in addition to work done at the state lab, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp.

“This is big progress from where we were even a week ago,” Baker said. “I also want to remind folks that as the number of tests we do in Massachusetts goes up, we will expect the number of cases, the number of positive tests to go up as well.”

There have now been almost 9,000 tests completed in Massachusetts, which is up from around 6,000 on Sunday. The state’s Coronavirus Command Center will continue to expand testing capacity, Baker said.

The Department of Public Health has made 89 deliveries of equipment supplies from the strategic national stockpile to healthcare facilities across Massachusetts, Baker said. The state agency has received several shipments from the stockpile, totaling over 750,000 items including masks, face shields, gowns and protective gloves. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency began distributing supplies Monday to at least 15 locations including fire, police and first responders.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the legislative package would allow local government flexibility to respond to coronavirus by modifying local permitting processes, enabling municipalities to extend tax and finance deadlines and extending educational requirement deadlines.

“We have two problems. One is we have this public health threat that is enormous and deadly and right in front of us and at the same time we have actions that we are taking – and we admit this – to respond to this public health threat that is creating profound, unprecedented economic dislocation,” Baker said. “And that is why in some respects its so important for us to focus on what we need to do to limit the spread.”

Baker also announced a new text alert system in an effort to inform members of the public about #COVID19 via up-to-date alerts about the #coronavirus sent to their phones. Text COVIDMA to 888-777 to sign up.

Other news from the press conference includes:

  • Baker is in conversation with the Legislature to help homeowners and renters and hopes to reach an agreement, “if not this week certainly early next week.” But urged the federal government to move on the issue because inaction at the national level makes it difficult for states to respond.
  • Baker is working with the Attorney General’s office to create guidance for grocery stores with respect to social distancing protocols, though he noted many stores have implemented their own.
  • The state is processing “thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands” of applications for unemployment benefits at a volume that would have caused the system to crash had they not updated their software a couple of years ago, according to Baker. Hard numbers are typically released at the end of the month, he said.
  • Baker warned young people that, “this is not something to quibble about,” and just because youths may not feel symptoms of the virus, they could be a carrier and deliver it to somebody they care about.

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