Friday, April 19, 2024

Elaborate and expensive patios created on sidewalks and streets, such as this one at Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square, may become defunct with a state of emergency ending June 15. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The rules, structures and aid to the public that Cambridge put in place over 14 months of pandemic were upended Monday with news that Gov. Charlie Baker would end virtually all Covid-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings May 29, in line with guidelines released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, Baker said he would end Massachusetts’ state of emergency June 15, which means restrictions put in place by cities and towns under that umbrella expire 60 days later – including eviction moratoriums and the rules enabling the outdoor dining patios set up on sidewalks and streets citywide.

“We’ll have an opinion shortly, but taking the state of emergency off really takes it out of our hands,” City Manager Louis A. DePasquale told city councillors at their meeting. “The early answer is that I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of options.”

As of May 29, fully vaccinated people can take their masks off anywhere except in public and private transit vehicles and stations – meaning for the MBTA, but also for Lyfts, Ubers and taxis, and airports and airplanes; child-focused facilities such as schools; and in health care and “congregate care” settings from hospitals to homeless shelters. Businesses can continue to set their own rules on masks and customer vaccination status.

So may cities and towns. But though DePasquale said his staff had only hours Monday to start thinking through the ramifications and “will revisit this issue,” he also signaled that Cambridge might loosen up its mask rules quickly.

“We are at this point in time leaning toward aligning with the governor’s guidelines,” DePasquale said.

Even nightclubs – hundreds of sweaty people in a confined space for a night of dancing and drinking – would be exempt from the limits of the past months, in DePasquale’s interpretation, though he warned again that “we only got this today.”

Vaccinations and Covid cases

Municipal governments could expect more guidance from the State Department of Health soon, the governor’s office said Monday.

As of May 11, which was the most recently available data when the council met, 65 percent of Cambridge residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 46 percent were fully vaccinated; new Covid-19 cases among residents have dropped 90 percent over the past five weeks to 2.5 confirmed cases per 100,000 city residents, “and we continue to trend downward,” chief public health officer Claude Jacob said Monday.

That tens of thousands of people who come to Cambridge to work daily are not counted among those figures concerned councillor Patty Nolan, but Jacob said the health department continued to do what it could to encourage vaccination among the visiting workforce. “We’ve been trying to work directly with the food service establishments in particular to make sure that the frontline workers are notified about vaccination clinics,” which are open to Cambridge residents and workers, Jacob said. “I’m not sure if there’s anything more that we can do besides messaging.”

On evictions …

On business and money measures taken under the governor’s state of emergency, city staff went in two directions.

Cambridge’s eviction moratorium, which applies to businesses as well as residents, doesn’t prevent owners from filing an eviction case, only from putting tenants out on the street if the owners win a court judgment. That could end June 15 and blindside struggling residents, councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler said, noting: “Even though the state of emergency may be lifting, all of the things that give rise to the housing crisis that’s going along with it – folks losing jobs, losing income – is still there.”

Sobrinho-Wheeler urged the city to continue its efforts to connect tenants with help from the city or other resources, and the city manager assured him that “part of our meeting today was to figure out how we can get that out there.” But though more information would be available Monday at the next council meeting, he said, the preliminary reading from the city’s Law Department is that “we have no choice, and we’ll be following the rules of the state.”

… and entertainment and dining

On the matter of entertainment and dining changes that sprang up since the pandemic lockdown, there was more optimism in the city manager’s response.

While Nolan wondered what would happen to businesses’ Covid adaptations such as takeout cocktails, councillor Marc McGovern mentioned the patios built by restaurants, some of them quite elaborate and expensive, and wondered about Starlight Square, the open-air entertainment and community complex opened on a municipal parking lot in Central Square. It has a second season scheduled through October.

“We did meet already on the patios and spent a lot of time on that … I think we’ve come up with a formula that will work. We’ll have something certainly by the end of the week that’s more formal, but I think we were in a good place with that,” DePasquale said. To McGovern’s call to think about how Starlight Square could keep operating, DePasquale said staff “absolutely” was.