Baker orders all bars, eateries to offer take-out only; schools to close statewide

In the most dramatic escalation yet of the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday announced that all Massachusetts public schools must soon close for three weeks, most events with 25 or more people are now banned, and visitors are barred from the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Baker also ordered all bars and restaurants to stop serving customers in their establishments effective Tuesday, March 17 through April 17. The ban does not prohibit take-out orders.

K-12 schools can return Monday, but starting Tuesday, they must shut down their educational activities for 21 days, Baker said during a Sunday evening news conference.

The announcement came as Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou outlined several other major steps aimed at blunting the spread of COVID-19, including a refinement of an emergency order Baker issued just two days ago from prohibiting most events with 250 or more people to 25 or more people.

Sudders, who stepped aside from her normal duties to lead a command center focusing exclusively on the state's virus response, said Massachusetts issued five new public health orders as part of its state of emergency.

Those orders include an immediate requirement that all commercial and group health insurers cover all medically necessary telehealth services and instruction for all assisted living facilities, nursing facilities and rest homes to ban visitors. Hospital visitors will be restricted and screened.

Massachusetts has 164 identified cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said community spread — where transmission cannot be traced back to a specific source or travel history — is now occurring in seven counties.

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