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Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 ordered all restaurants and bars to close on-premise consumption beginning Tuesday, marking one of the most drastic measures yet taken by the state to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking at the Massachusetts State House Sunday, Baker announced the state would close all schools, ban gatherings of more than 25 people, and limit restaurants to just takeout and delivery services.
The measures will last for at least three weeks. The new order does not affect pharmacies and grocery stores.
“This is about bars and restaurants and those places that people do not absolutely have to go,” Baker said.
“I was really thankful,” John F. Schall, the co-owner of the popular Harvard Square Mexican restaurant El Jefe’s, said of Baker’s announcement. “I was so glad that it happened. The only disappointing part of it was it didn’t happen nationwide.”
El Jefe’s was scheduled to open a second location near Emerson College on March 28, but Schall said the launch has been pushed back due to the virus.
“The important thing is to stop the human interaction in a way that allows us to know in a two- or three-week period of time who has this virus and who doesn’t, and then to treat the people that have it,” Schall said. “That’s sort of what this is all about doing.”
As of Monday, there are 197 confirmed coronavirus patients in Massachusetts, including at least seven Cambridge residents.
The city announced Monday night that it would close all playgrounds, parks, fields, and courts. All city offices except for the Cambridge Police Department will also close to the public. The city will also bar establishments with a license to serve alcohol on premise from doing so until April 5.
At his press conference Sunday, Baker said restaurants must “follow social distancing protocols” from the Massachusetts Department of Health.
Schall said he took further measures to encourage state-wide policies. El Jefe’s put out floor tape marking where customers should stand in order to keep a six-foot social distance, which is recommended by the Center for Disease Control.
“We’re trying to make sure we do everything possible in the restaurant in terms of keeping people six feet apart, even if they’re in line for takeout,” Schall said.
Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said she expects Square eateries staying open will lessen the impact on local grocery stores.
“Can you imagine what would happen to Shaw’s if suddenly there weren’t any of these little eateries available and everybody was at Shaw’s?” She said. “That just wouldn’t make sense at all.”
Jillson added she is confident the state and federal government will provide assistance to workers in the midst of the crisis.
“I think the biggest thing is no longer economics, but it’s health,” she said. “The economics piece, I do believe, is going to be taken care of.”
El Jefe’s, which opened in 2015, will continue to stay open for takeout and delivery. Although Baker’s order has yet to take effect, it has already removed the tables and chairs from its Mt. Auburn Street location.
“This is the only way we’re going to get this under control — having everybody sort of stop,” Schall said of the restrictions. “As much of a hit as it is, to not support this is just being shortsighted. This is what has to be done.”
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