Governor Baker issued a new order, COVID-19 Order No. 59, imposing new restrictions on public gatherings and workplace occupancy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The order limits indoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 persons in both private homes and public spaces, and limits outdoor gatherings to 25 persons. Various businesses and workplaces are subject to a 25% capacity restriction. The new restrictions are effective December 26 through January 10, unless extended.

The new order amends COVID-19 Order No. 57 and No. 58, which imposed new gathering and workplace restrictions earlier this month.

Please contact a member of Mirick O’Connell’s Public and Municipal Law Group with specific questions on the Governor’s new orders.

SJC Upholds Governor’s Authority to Issue COVID-19 Orders

On December 10, 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld Governor Baker’s use of emergency powers to impose rules on gatherings, face coverings, and business closures under the state’s Civil Defense Act.

In Desrosiers v. The Governor, the SJC found that the Civil Defense Act gave the Governor authority to declare a state of emergency at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because the pandemic was an immediate threat to public health and safety. While looking at the state’s Civil Defense Act, the justices concluded that the phrase “other natural causes” encompassed the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SJC recognized that not every public health emergency falls within the definition of “other natural causes”, but until there is some stable improvement in the pandemic, COVID-19 constitutes a natural cause. The SJC distinguished the current pandemic from other health emergencies because the coronavirus cannot be addressed “solely at the local level.” The Court explained that only health crises that “exceed the resources and capacities of local governments and boards of health” are considered “other natural causes” under the Civil Defense Act.