January COVID-19 Rundown: New Year, New Measures
COVID-19 isn’t going to clock out now that 2020 is over, and with the recent and horrifying assault on our Capitol, it’s difficult to predict whether 2021 will be much better. While it may seem the country is spiraling down a dark path, local government is still taking action to support communities and stop the spread of the virus as case numbers continue to rise, including further gathering limitations, funding underrepresented businesses, and sustaining unemployment benefits. With the insurrection dominating the news, some of these new COVID measures in Massachusetts may have fallen off your radar.
Massachusetts Undergoes Further Rollback of Phases
Governor Baker announced a temporary statewide rollback on capacity and gathering limits that started on Saturday, December 26th, and is effective until noon on Sunday, January 10th. These limits are stricter than those imposed on December 13th and include:
- Capacity Limits: Most industries are only be allowed to host up to 25% of their establishment’s capacity, excluding members of staff. Businesses notably affected by this restriction include restaurants, gyms, retail stores, and recreational facilities.
- Gathering Limits: No more than ten people are advised to gather inside and no more than 25 outdoors. These limits apply to private residences, public spaces, and event venues.
- Limits on Elective Surgeries: Massachusetts hospitals were directed to postpone or cancel all nonessential inpatient elective surgeries to accommodate for the increase in COVID-19 inpatients.
Despite these new COVID measures in Massachusetts ending on the 10th, businesses should prepare for an extended rollback and perhaps even stricter regulations as the positive COVID-19 test rates continue to rise.
Boston Reenters Modified Phase 2
As opposed to the rest of Massachusetts, Boston has had to undergo a more significant roll back to a modified second step of Phase 2. On Wednesday, December 16th, Mayor Walsh introduced the same capacity and gathering limits as the rest of the Commonwealth but ordered the complete closure of industries, including indoor recreational facilities, fitness centers, museums, movie theaters, and other such establishments.
He also included further restaurant restrictions by prohibiting bar seating unless a Bar Seating Plan Application is submitted and approved by Boston’s Licensing Board. Restaurant-goers are also barred from remaining in a restaurant for more than 90 minutes. As of yet, there is no proposed end date for these advisories. For a full list of regulations, visit the City of Boston’s website.
Small Business Relief Package Looks to Revive the Local Economy
The Baker-Polito Administration announced a $668 million small business relief package to support local business owners most affected by COVID-19. Industries eligible for the grant include restaurants, bars, caterers, indoor recreational facilities, fitness centers, event-support professionals, retail, and personal services. Grants offered can amount to as much as $75,000, and the last day for submissions is January 15th, so it’s important to act soon. Submit your application to the Sector-Specific Relief Grant Program, supported by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, to discover if you qualify for aid.
Sustaining Unemployment Trust Fund to Provide Employer Relief
Governor Baker filed legislation to sustain unemployment benefits and grant $1.3 billion in unemployment insurance relief to Massachusetts’ employers over two years. The principal provisions of this new legislation include:
- Short-Term Employer Tax Relief: The current Commonwealth unemployment legislative statute required an employer tax increase in 2021, but this tax schedule has delayed that increase for two years.
- Special Obligation Bonds: The state has received federal cash advances to fund the increased demand for unemployment. By issuing bonds, Massachusetts can ensure trust fund solvency is attained and avoid federal tax increases if not paid back in full before November 2022.
- Employer Surcharge on Federal Advances: While 2020 advances were initially interest-free, interest will start to be charged this month. To fund these interest payments, Massachusetts established a separate fund to collect surcharge proceeds.
These provisions will ensure the state’s unemployment fund will remain intact throughout the pandemic, providing those who’ve lost their jobs with much-needed aid. Find out the full details of the legislation at Massachusetts’ dedicated page.
The new COVID measures in Massachusetts restrict some of the autonomy of local businesses for the purposes of preventing spread, but some of the changes aim to provide support to companies most affected. While these measures may seem unfavorable to business owners, they reinforce the need to design pivot strategies and maintain marketing efforts. Vision Advertising has helped many businesses in our community continue to thrive through our timely consultations and relevant social media strategies. If you’re in need of guidance during this time of uncertainty, contact us today.