Covid numbers push Dartmouth back a step in reopening

Dec 7, 2020

After three straight weeks of being in the “red category” of the state’s Covid-19 risk map, Dartmouth will have to take a step back in the state's phased reopening, marking the first time the town has had to roll back since the spring.

According to state data, Dartmouth is among 97 other municipalities at higher risk for contracting the virus due to the town’s 14-day average daily case rate of over 47 per 100,000 people and a percent positive test rate of 6.29%. 

Reverting to Step 1 of Phase 3 means that some businesses are prohibited from operating such as indoor theaters. Other businesses such as gyms must reduce indoor capacity from 50% to 40%. 

According to Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes, affected businesses should have been notified by the state.

“We continue to monitor the governor’s office,” MacInnes said at a Dec. 7 Select Board meeting. “It’s not looking promising with cases peaking.”

The rollback came just ahead of Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to scale back the reopening of the entire state’s economy to the first step of phase 3 on Dec. 8.

Under the governor’s new orders, mask guidance is being strengthened for gyms, office spaces and restaurants, and restaurants will be forced to reduce table size from 10 to six per party and place 90 minute time limits on dining. 

A big factor, Baker said at a press conference on Dec. 8, is that public health data has appeared particularly grim since Thanksgiving.

“Since Thanksgiving, the Commonwealth has experienced a rapid increase in new infections and hospitalizations,” Baker said “Significantly more people are suffering from severe Covid-related illnesses, and they do need urgent care. And this sharp increase is putting a strain on our health care system and our frontline health care workers.”

On Dec. 4, the Dartmouth Board of Health reported 156 new cases this week — up from 129 the week before, and two times the 78 cases reported at the peak of the spring outbreak in May.

At Town Hall, MacInnes said, departments have met to develop “teaming plans” to make sure that if there is any sort of outbreak, the building “wouldn’t be shut down completely.”

“One team could be home, the other team could be in-place,” he said. “They’re developing those this week and we’d be prepared to implement those.” 

Last month, Town Hall was closed from Nov. 19 until Dec. 3 — just after the state released data categorizing Dartmouth as a high-risk community for coronavirus transmission once again.