Seyfarth Synopsis: Pursuant to Governor Baker’s Emergency Order regarding COVID-19 issued Monday, March 23rd, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (“DPH”) issued a two-part Public Health Advisory on March 24, 2020. The  first part is directed to those Massachusetts residents who are 70 years and older and those with underlying health conditions to strongly advise them to stay-at-home with the exception of essential trips for food, medicine, and focused time for exercise and fresh air.  The second part is directed to the population as a whole – both to those who are needed to keep Essential Services operational and for all other residents of the Commonwealth.  This part of the Advisory also advises staying-at-home for all those who are not providing Essential Services as described in the Emergency Order.  The Advisory also imposes certain mandatory requirements on grocery stores and pharmacies to implement strategies to reduce COVID-19 exposure to their employees and to provide alternative hours each day to limit potential exposure of adults aged 60 years and older.

Stay-At-Home Advisory

The DPH Advisory provides guidance regarding Stay-at-Home and Safe Practices.  Massachusetts residents who do not provide Essential Services (as discussed in our March 23 Update) are strongly advised to stay-at-home with the exception of essential trips for food, medicine, and focused time for exercise and fresh air.  Citing significantly higher fatality rates with confirmed cases of COVID-19 for those individuals who are over age 70 and those with underlying health conditions, the Advisory strongly urges them to stay-at-home unless necessary and to limit their exposure to the virus. 

Per the Advisory, staying home means:

  • Only leave your home to address essential needs, get some fresh air and exercise, and if you do, avoid unnecessary contact with other individuals.
  • You should still run essential errands such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy but should practice social distancing when shopping.  If you are at high-risk, you should inquire about your local pharmacy/grocery store’s alternative hours for high risk individuals.
  • When going to the pharmacy, you should fill your prescriptions for 90 days if possible; for some medications this is not allowed.  If you are at high-risk, you should try to use a mail-order service.
  • You can still go to the gas station, order and pick up take-out food and receive deliveries (e.g. Amazon, UPS, FedEx).
  • You can still go outside to get fresh air; however, you must practice social distancing while outside and avoid touching surfaces frequently touched by others.
  • You are encouraged to use remote modes of communication such as telephone or video chat (e.g. Facetime, Skype, Facebook Messenger Video Chat) instead of visiting friends or family.  This is especially true for a hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility, or other residential care setting.
  • Non-essential medical care like eye exams, teeth cleaning, and elective procedures must be rescheduled.
  • If possible, health care visits should be done remotely.
  • Parents should not arrange play dates for children during this time.
  • All individuals must eliminate close contact activities such as pick-up sports games.

The Advisory requires all Massachusetts residents to adhere to safe hygiene practices and vigilant social distancing by keeping a distance of six feet between themselves and other persons.  Individuals experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 are advised to stay in their homes, and request assistance from others to access Essential Services.

Restrictions on Grocery Stores and Pharmacies

As directed by the Governor’s Emergency  Order, the Advisory requires grocery stores and pharmacies to provide alternative hours of operation (at least one hour each day) for individuals over age 60 to help limit their potential exposure to COVID-19.  Such alternative hours must be posted and enforced.  Although the Advisory does not indicate exactly where or how the alternative hours should be posted, we recommend posting these hours conspicuously on store-fronts, and on websites, if possible.

Grocery stores and pharmacies must also provide employees with access to certain sanitizing products, and implement procedures to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, including by ensuring that both customers and employees remain at least six feet apart at all times.

The Advisory encourages employees who are sick to stay home, and requires grocery stores and pharmacies to send employees home if they are sick.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.