WOBURN - After tracking a worrying spike in new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, Mayor Scott Galvin on Monday delayed for at least a week the loosening of local business restrictions under the second step of the state's Phase 3 reopening plan.
In a phone interview on Monday morning, the mayor revealed that he halted the lifting of various economic activity restrictions within Woburn after a total of 18 residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening.
"Woburn is going to pump the brakes on that for another week," said Galvin of the start of the Phase 3, Stage 2 reopenings, which under an emergency order enacted late last week, were permitted by Mass. Governor Charles Baker within "low-risk" communities.
"Over the weekend, we heard about 18 new case, which is a significant jump. From our perspective, we went to take a step back and strongly remind people about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing," the city executive added.
According to Galvin, though Woburn technically meets state criteria for moving ahead with the latest round of business reopenings, yesterday's start of Phase 3, Stage 2 comes at a pivotal time for the community as it deals with new clusters of COVID-19 transmissions. The decision also comes as the city's school administrators earlier this month resumed in-person classroom instruction for the first time since last March.
Unequivocally assuring residents that there is still time to prevent the latest uptick in COVID-19 infections from spiraling out-of-control into a wider outbreak, city leaders are urging citizens and area businesses to remain steadfast in their adherence to social distancing, preventative hygiene, and facial covering orders.
According to the mayor, vigilance now not only honors the myriad of sacrifices made by residents and businesses since the pandemic started, it could also spare public health officials from having to take more drastic actions like reverting back to a remote learning model in local schools.
"Kids are the safest they're going to be in school, but we have to remember [to follow the rules] hen the kids are outside of the classroom," he said on Monday. "People have already made so many great sacrifices, and we don't want them to let their guard down."
Phase 3 delay impacts
The decision to postpone the Phase 3, Step 2 reopening will have the greatest impact on the handful of local merchants who have still not been able to resume operations since the governor shuttered all "non-essential" businesses near the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
Specifically, beginning yesterday, concert halls and similar indoor and outdoor venues were allowed to reopen within eligible communities. Arcades and recreational entertainment centers, including trampoline parks and laser tag facilities, would have also been allowed to fully reopen under reduced 50 percent capacity restrictions.
Including East Woburn's Dave & Buster's center and Xtreme Craze off on Presidential Way, there are a handful of area businesses that will now have to adjust their reopening expectations due to the mayoral order.
However, the delayed implementation will have a broader effect on merchants who have already reopened their stores and would have been allowed to accept greater numbers of customers.
For example, under the governor's order, clothing retailers would have been allowed to reopen fitting rooms, while gyms and libraries could increase their maximum capacity thresholds to 50 percent of the customers allowed under occupancy permits.
According to the mayor, given how much the state has loosened economic, travel, and public gathering restrictions since the reopening plan began with Phase I on May 18, he and other city officials always had the reasonable expectation that community transmissions of COVID-19 would increase.
The city has also reopened its schools and allowed youth sporting and other outdoor activities to resume. Alongside the relaxing of movement and gathering restrictions, the state has also vastly expanded COVID-19 testing capabilities to such an extent that even those who don't suspect they are ill are now able to get tested without difficulty.
However, in recent weeks, officials from the Department of Public Health (DPH) has been tracking a statewide jump in confirmed cases that could be indicating the start of what some infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists are labeling as a "second wave" of COVID-19 outbreaks.
According to the mayor, a combination of factors are likely leading to the troubling signs, but regardless of the reasons, Woburn's citizenry in the coming days and weeks will likely determine just how bad the situation will get.
"We are seeing more cases spread [to multiple family members] in households than before. But we're also looking at things like hospital data, and at places like Winchester Hospital, we're not seeing any issues with [COVID-19-related hospitalizations']right now," said Galvin. "We have to do our best as a community to be responsible and do some of the simplest things being asked of us."