Mayor Jon Mitchell said today that his administration will follow the first phase of Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening plan, with adjustments specific to New Bedford.

"The state of the virus in New Bedford is different from that of the state as a whole," said Mitchell at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. He cited a rate of disease transmission that is still too high and COVID-19 metrics that are flat and not declining.

As such, he said New Bedford will impose tougher standards than the state for places where lots of people gather indoors — including houses of worship and industrial workplaces. He said a growing body of evidence shows that large indoor gathering places are fertile sites for spread of the coronavirus.

Mitchell said the city will continue to enforce its May 6 Board of Health order concerning industrial facilities. The order requires screening, hygiene, distancing and reporting protocols that exceed those required by the Baker administration.

Also, the number of persons attending any worship service will be capped at 40 percent of the building's permitted capacity or at 100 people, whichever number is lower. The state standard cites the 40 percent rule but dictates no absolute cap.

Mitchell added that New Bedford is home to some huge congregations comprising 500 to 1,000 people, and that simply applying the building capacity standard would still result in crowds that are too large during the pandemic.

The mayor said all houses of worship are strongly encouraged to promote social distancing with at least six feet between families at all times. He said he consulted with religious leaders around the city before deciding upon the 100-person attendance cap.

As for manufacturing and traditional industry, Mitchell said it represents a larger portion of New Bedford’s economy than the state as a whole. He added that disease has spread within industrial facilities during the pandemic, and that fish processing plants are on that list.

In one notable detail, the mayor said that for now, New Bedford beach stickers will be available to New Bedford residents only.

Mitchell said even though the city has fewer COVID-19 cases per capita than most cities in the Northeast, that's no reason to let up on prevention measures.

On Monday, Baker announced his plan to reopen Massachusetts “to methodically allow businesses, services, and activities to resume, while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19.”

Mitchell provided an outline of Phase 1 of the city's reopening plan:

Reopening New Bedford: Phase 1

For operations permitted to reopen May 18

* Manufacturing & Industrial Operations: As noted above, earlier this month, Mayor Mitchell and the Board of Health laid out important requirements to protect all workers at large workplaces in New Bedford. As manufacturers reopen in New Bedford, they will be required to enforce social distancing, perform regular cleaning, designate a health and safety officer for COVID-19, and conduct temperature checks of all workers at the start of each shift to protect workers. The City will continue to enforce its orders regarding large workplaces, copies of which is attached.

* Construction: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning construction, reopening May 18. The state requires construction operations to enforce social distancing, properly disinfect workplaces, and obtain self-certification from employees that they haven’t experienced symptoms or been in close contact with those who are positive for COVID-19. In-home installations and home remodeling can begin following the state’s guidance on social distancing and cleaning, starting May 18.

* Places of Worship: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning places of worship, reopening May 18, but with additional guidelines. The state has announced that no more than 40% of the building’s maximum capacity as documented in its occupancy permit may be allowed to attend worship services. In New Bedford, as noted above, the cap will be at 40% of capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.

For operations permitted to reopen May 25

* Parks, Trails & the Blue Lane: Parks, trails and the Blue Lane in New Bedford have remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing measures enforced. Based on the first phase of the state’s reopening, that won’t change – New Bedford’s parks will remain open, with social distancing. Specifically, playgrounds, basketball courts and soccer fields will reopen at a later date.

* Beaches: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning beaches, reopening May 25, but with additional guidelines. At New Bedford’s beaches, only New Bedford residents will be able to purchase a beach pass until further notice.  Social distancing measures will be enforced, with no beach volleyball or other organized sports permitted. Public restrooms at the beach will be closed until further notice.

Beach parking passes will be sold on-site at Fort Taber Park (cash only) and with credit/debit card only at www.nbprb.com, under Register Now, Beach Parking Information. The City will also conduct a pop-up beach parking pass sale on Friday, May 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. outside the Andrea McCoy Recreation Center, 181 Hillman Street. Cash, credit/debit cards will be accepted. Masks must be worn and social distancing and hygiene protocols will be observed.

* Buttonwood Park Zoo: Based on the state’s announcement, the Buttonwood Park Zoo will reopen on May 30. The Zoo will operate under regular business hours but on an adjusted schedule from Wednesday through Sunday only, until further notice. Tickets for time-based admission will be sold online in accordance with state guidelines at www.bpzoo.org. Social distancing protocols and reduced capacity of visitors will be observed in accordance with state guidelines, and indoor exhibits and rides will be closed to the public. The Buttonwood Park Zoo will follow stringent social distancing, hygiene, and cleaning protocols in order to keep all visitors to the Zoo safe and healthy.

* Hair Salons & Barbershops: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning these businesses, reopening May 25. Strict health and safety measures will be enforced under the state’s guidelines, including social distancing, capacity limitations, staffing and operations, and hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

* Pet Groomers: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning these businesses, reopening May 25. The state’s guidelines around social distancing, staffing and operations, and hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be enforced.

* Car Washes: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning these businesses, reopening May 25. The state’s guidelines around social distancing, staffing and operations, and hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be enforced.

* Recreational Boating: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning recreational boating, which is allowed to resume May 25.

* Private Offices: New Bedford will follow the state’s guidelines concerning private offices, reopening May 25. The state’s guidelines around social distancing, hygiene protocols, and cleaning will be implemented.

* Retail (e.g. clothing stores, toy stores, jewelry stores, nurseries and garden centers that do not sell food products): Based on the first phase of the state’s reopening guidelines, these stores will be permitted to offer curbside pickup and delivery only, beginning May 25.

* Parking at Meters: Enforcement of metered parking will not be resumed under the first phase of reopening. When retail stores and restaurants reopen during the second phase of reopening, metered parking enforcement will take effect.

* Auto Dealers & Wholesalers: Under the state’s guidelines, auto dealers and wholesalers will be permitted to offer curbside pickup and delivery only beginning May 25.

* City Offices & Facilities: City Hall and other city offices continue to serve residents remotely, as they have since mid-March, until further notice.

* Libraries: Under the state’s first phase of reopening, beginning June 1, the New Bedford Free Public Library system will be open for curbside pickup only during regular branch hours, available at www.newbedford-ma.gov/library. Patrons with books on hold may be called the week of May 25 for curbside pickup.

For more information on the status of reopening in New Bedford and other important news, visit the COVID-19 page on www.newbedford-ma.gov. For information on the masks available to any New Bedford resident who wants one, visit www.masknb.com.

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