Governor threatens to limit party sizes as virus cases rise

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker is warning Massachusetts residents that he’ll slash the number of people allowed to gather in house parties, backyard barbecues and other private social gatherings if virus cases continue to trend upward.

The state is investigating at least eight new clusters of the virus, many of them linked to large social gatherings where people did not follow virus safety rules like wearing face masks, the Republican governor said Friday.

Among the recent “troubling clusters” of the virus are a lifeguard party in Falmouth, a high school graduation party in Chelmsford, large house parties in Chatham and Wrentham, and an unauthorized football camp in Weymouth, according to Baker. A 90-person prom party in Cohasset is also being investigated, he said.

He said the gatherings, many of which have been organized and attended by adults, are a “recipe for disaster” and need to stop if the state wants to continue to reopen its battered economy.

“The ask is relatively small,” Baker said. “Wear your masks, respect the virus and don’t do these large gatherings that can be superspreader events.”

Massachusetts regulations currently limit social gatherings to no more than 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo earlier this week reduced the size of social gatherings from 25 people to 15 people, after the state saw a similar rise in virus cases tied to parties.

A look at other coronavirus developments in Massachusetts:

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FACE MASK CAMPAIGN

Massachusetts officials are redoubling their efforts to get residents to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The #MaskUpMA campaign launched Friday with social media video testimonials from Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, as well as a new state website and other public outreach efforts.

Baker’s office said other prominent public figures will be joining the social media campaign to remind residents to “mask up.”

In May, Baker issued an order requiring residents to wear face-coverings in indoor and outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. Children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a mask or face covering because of a medical condition are exempt.

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BOSTON SCHOOLS

Public school students in Boston’s won’t be returning to full, in-person classes this fall, Mayor Marty Walsh acknowledged Friday.

The Democrat said the state’s largest public school system is still finalizing its plans for how the new school year will look, with a focus on all-remote learning or a hybrid option.

He said families will also be able to opt out of hybrid option for completely remote-based learning.

Massachusetts school districts were required to submit a range of reopening plans to state education officials by Friday, though final decisions aren’t expected to be announced until later in August.

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NANTUCKET RESTAURANTS

Nantucket restaurants and bars are being ordered to close by midnight to address rising cases of coronavirus on the famous resort island.

The local select board and board of health this week ordered restaurants to stop serving alcohol by 11:30 p.m. and to close completely by midnight.

Restaurants also will not be able to serve alcohol to someone who has not ordered food. Take-out businesses are exempt from the order.

Nantucket, a tiny island located off Cape Cod, has only had 41 cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, but most have come in the last month as summer vacationers have arrived.

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REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES

The Massachusetts motor vehicles department is beginning a drop-off service for certain transactions so customers can remain safer during the pandemic.

The service will start Monday in Braintree and be rolled out at more Registry of Motor Vehicles locations on Aug. 10, the department announced Friday.

Customers choosing this option will be able to drop off appropriate paperwork for registering and titling a vehicle; transferring plates; and registration reinstatements, among other services.

Registration renewals will still be conducted exclusively online or by mail, however.

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VIRUS CASES

Massachusetts health officials reported nearly 400 new cases and 14 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday.

It was the third day in a row that new coronavirus cases topped 300, though officials said that's due in part to a test reporting backlog.

Massachusetts has recorded more than 109,000 coronavirus cases to date, and the state’s seven-day average of positive tests hovers around 2%.

More than 8,300 people have died from the virus in the state during the pandemic, one of the highest death tolls in the nation.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Pratt in Boston contributed to this story.