PROVINCETOWN — Phase one of the governor’s reopening plan began on Monday, but for the Outer Cape’s hospitality-driven economy, the big changes will come with phase two.
That’s when renting to vacationers, eating in restaurants, and browsing through stores all become possible again. There will be new rules for these activities, and whether consumers will be ready to partake is another matter. But the timeline for opening has been laid out, and the key transition is likely to come mid-June.
Factories, construction sites, and houses of worship reopened May 18; on May 25, retail stores can begin delivery and curbside pickup, and offices, laboratories, drive-in movies, hair salons and barbers (by appointment), pet grooming, some boats (with limits on passengers), and some athletic fields and courts may reopen.
In phase two will come the necessary ingredients for a stay on the Cape. Many purely recreational activities are reserved for phase three: bars, whale watching, gyms, museums, and movie theaters.
The transition between these phases is supposed to be controlled by six statewide health indicators, which measure the severity of coronavirus infections and the health care system’s capacity to handle them. The state’s “health dashboard” is to be updated weekly. Each phase will take a minimum of three weeks, so phase two can begin, at the earliest, on Monday, June 8.
“Phase one is pretty limited,” state Sen. Julian Cyr told the Provincetown Select Board Monday night. “We have to get morbidity and mortality down to get to phase two. It will take at least three weeks, and potentially longer.”
For many businesses, mid-June might just barely be soon enough. In a recent survey, 58 percent of Provincetown business owners said they needed to open by June 15 to have a viable season. Forty-two percent said that if they couldn’t open by July 1, they might not open at all.
Many business owners said they would stay open later in the season to recoup lost income. Summer is not easily replaced, though. The earliest that phase-three businesses can reopen is June 29. Provincetown’s whale watch fleet, bars, gyms, and yoga studios may be forced to face a year without a July.
Provincetown’s health agent, Morgan Clark, told the select board Monday that, in addition to the state’s metrics, she is keeping track of Provincetown’s supply of ambulances and rescue crews, Outer Cape Health Service’s supply of clinicians, and the staff of various town departments, including police and the dept. of public works.
“We are looking at the percent of these critical personnel who could be exposed and quarantined,” said Clark, “to be sure we’re not overwhelmed.”
Town Manager Robin Craver said she’ll deliver a comprehensive report next week with policy recommendations. She said she anticipates changes to Commercial Street to make more space for pedestrians, as well as new uses of town property, such as the addition of picnic tables or handwashing stations.
“My hope is to have these things ready for implementation by mid-June,” said Craver, “so we are prepared.”
Many business owners were aggravated that the state did not provide more detailed guidance. On Monday, “sector-specific protocols” were released only for phase-one businesses, leaving hotels, restaurants, and others to wonder what rules would apply to their newly opened businesses in only three short weeks.
For the time being, residents arriving from out of state are still “urged” or “instructed” (the state government uses both words) to self-quarantine for 14 days. A coalition of legislators from the Cape and Islands, chambers of commerce, and hospitals had advised a strong quarantine, including bringing 14 days of food and other supplies with you to the Cape. A new version of that advisory was still being developed at press time.
“We’re working to get clarity from the state on the rules for people from out of state, especially in phase two and beyond,” said Sen. Cyr. The governor’s out-of-state quarantine advisory dates back to March 27, when Massachusetts was at the very beginning of its outbreak.