COVID Operating Standards Updated as of 9/28/2020

We have provided links to web pages and documents related to the updated sector-specific restaurant, retail, and indoor and outdoor workplace safety standards. Please note that these updated standards are effective on Monday, September 28th.

 

Updated Sector-Specific Workplace Safety Standards

Restaurants Safety Standards and Checklist web page for current standards and other information

Download Restaurant Safety Standards (effective Monday, September 28th)

Retail Safety Standards and Checklist web page for current standards and other information

Download Retail Safety Standards (effective Monday, September 28th)

Indoor and Outdoor Events Standards and Checklist web page for current standards and other information

Download Indoor and Outdoor Events Safety Standards (effective Monday, September 28th

Jobless Rate Tumbles as Mass. Employers Add Jobs in August

No Longer on Bottom, State Recovery Still Lags Nation

Article Source: State House News Service
Article By: Chris Lisinski

Less than half of the job cuts prompted by COVID-19 in Massachusetts have been restored despite four straight months of gains, according to federal data. [Graphic: Chris Lisinski/SHNS]

SEPT. 18, 2020…..Massachusetts employers reported adding 51,600 jobs in August, while the statewide unemployment rate dropped nearly 5 percentage points, bucking a two-month trend of the Bay State bearing the highest jobless rate in the country.

New preliminary jobs data released Friday by federal and state officials showed month-over-month improvement through the late summer amid the economic chaos wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s unemployment rate dropped from a revised rate of 16.2 percent in July to 11.3 percent in August, officials said. That 4.9 percentage point change was the largest decrease in the country.

Despite the improvement, Massachusetts still lagged behind the national unemployment rate of 8.4 percent last month. After reporting the highest unemployment rate nationwide in both June and July, Massachusetts tied with New Mexico in August for the sixth-highest rate among all states and the District of Columbia.

Almost all of the 51,600 positions added in August came in the private sector, according to data from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The largest gains occurred in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities, while only one of the industry groups tracked, financial activities, reported losses in August.

Monthly unemployment and jobs data are based on two separate surveys. The unemployment rate comes from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics survey of households, which also produces an estimate of total employment, total unemployment and the size of the labor force. Jobs gained and industry-specific figures come from a survey of employers known as the Current Employment Statistics program.

The labor force household survey estimated total employment in Massachusetts to be 3.14 million in August, with 65,500 more people employed than in July. According to that series, the state has added back about 290,000 jobs of the more than 870,000 jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the employer survey estimated Massachusetts had 3.29 million nonfarm employees in August, 51,600 more than last month. Under that data series, the Bay State has gained back 272,000 of about 690,000 jobs lost.

Officials used figures from both programs in Friday’s release. The state labor office cited 51,600 jobs gained based on the employer survey and also said that total August employment was 3.14 million based on the household survey.

Through July, the economic damage from the pandemic had been felt more acutely in cities and in communities of color. Eight of the 10 communities with the highest unemployment rates in July have majority nonwhite populations.

August job gains, which are critical to the tens of thousands of workers affected and to the state’s overall recovery, come as Beacon Hill tries to figure out how to address key budget uncertainties. Lawmakers may need to make tough decisions on whether to impose tax hikes or scale back state services amid the economic jolt.

Tax collections have fared better than projected at the beginning of the crisis, but Sen. Michael Rodrigues — his chamber’s top budget official — said this week that he expects revenues to drop $5 billion below last year. The state will likely need to dip “deeply” into its $3.5 billion emergency savings fund without additional federal aid, Rodrigues said.

Senate President Karen Spilka, meanwhile, said Friday that she is optimistic another federal relief package will come from Congress.

Another key question the Legislature will need to answer is whether to step in and relieve businesses from an impending hike in the taxes they pay toward unemployment insurance.

Due to the unprecedented surge in joblessness, the Baker administration projects that the unemployment insurance trust fund will end 2020 nearly $2.5 billion in the red, triggering an increase of almost 60 percent in the per-employee contribution employers pay.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who co-chairs the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, said last month that she believes the Legislature will seek a rate freeze but needs federal assistance to make such a move possible.

Chamber member spotlight: Watkin Dental speaks on “new normal”

When COVID-19 hit the United States, one of the specialists that took a hit from the shutdown was the dental care sector.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), Dental practice activity in terms of patient volume and practice employment has rebounded, though these markers are still below pre-COVID-19 levels. In Fitchburg, MA, Watkin Dental Associates remains resilient as the economy slowly renews its hustle and bustle.

Arnold Watkin, DDS, MScD Prosthodontist, earned his specialty degree in prosthodontics in 1972 from Boston University, and saw a need for a multi-specialty practice, rather than sending patients across town or further away for different specialist, which generated the Watkin Dental Associates that is present today.

“COVID forced us to not only be much more self-protective, but also more patient-protective because of the virus,” Dr. Arnold Watkin stated. “Dentistry is a safe place, both before and during this COVID-19 pandemic. The dental sector is profoundly concerned for the personal protection equipment (PPE) aspect for it. In a way, there’s not much that is different, but it can affect the productivity of the business and industry.”

Watkin Dental is a vertically-integrated practice that takes care of what a patient needs. They offer all aspects of dentistry specialties at Watkin Dental, so that whatever the patient might need, they can take care of in the office, creating a well-rounded and convenient dental practice.

They offer a complete range of services for every patient: Cosmetic Treatment, Dental Implants, Dental Sealants, Bruxism Nightguards, Dental Veneers, Fillings, Fluoride Treatment, Full & Partial Dentures, Invisalign, Oral Cancer, Root Canal Treatment, and Smile Analysis. They even offer a Launch Loyalty program for those patients without dental insurance.

The Launch Loyalty program is a unique in-office discount insurance that patient can join, which can offer up to 30% off of the standard office fees for all services. There are other bonuses with the Launch Loyalty program as well, such as vision discounts, glasses, and more.

Dr. Watkin is excited for the sophistication of the dental implant industry, as it’s the best it’s been in the last few decades, as well as the importance of customized sports guards for upcoming activities.

“We have a machine here in-office that is specifically made to make these guards,” Dr. Watkin commented, “even if it’s playing in the backyard with a basketball.” These machines specialize in fit so that it is comfortable for the wearer.

Another topic that Dr. Watkin emphasized is their office’s co-management of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a highly undiagnosed concern for the dental industry. Watkin Dental has a self-evaluation/scoring form that helps patients and the practice identify if they should go see a sleep specialist to help with OSA.

Watkin Dental is a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and is currently accepting new patients. The practice is located at 26 Whalon St, Fitchburg, MA and can be contacted via phone 978.345.6919. You can also request an appointment online via their website at www.watkindental.com.

State Extends Tax Relief Targeted at Restaurants, Lodging

DOR Will Issue Emergency Regulations

Article Source: State House News Service
Article Author: Colin A. Young

SEPT. 16, 2020…..Small businesses hit hard by the government’s economic shutdown, particularly restaurants and lodgings, will now have until May 2021 to pay some state taxes from March 2020 through April 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders announced Tuesday evening.

Through emergency regulations to be issued by the Department of Revenue, state government plans to further delay tax deadlines for small businesses around the state, some of which have not been allowed by the state to reopen since first closing in the spring. Sales, meals and room occupancy taxes for qualifying businesses for March 2020 through April 2021 will not be due to the state until May 2021, and those that wait will not face any penalties or interest. Without the change, those taxes would have been due this month.

“Our Administration is committed to supporting local businesses and Main Street economies recovering from the impact of COVID-19, and we’re glad to work with our legislative colleagues on this additional measure to provide administrative tax relief,” Baker said. “Extending the tax relief measures we put into place earlier this year will help support companies across Massachusetts including small businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industries.”

Any businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meal taxes or less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending Feb. 29 will qualify for relief, according to a press release. Businesses that do not qualify but have meals tax and room occupancy tax obligations will have late-file and late-pay penalties waived, the administration said.

Tax relief is a topic frequently debated over the years in the Legislature but this new round of relief was the latest example of the governor taking unilateral action to address impacts of the pandemic, which has already prompted a wave of restaurant closures with more expected as fall and winter approach.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka were each quoted in the administration’s press release supporting the extension of administrative tax relief measures. DeLeo said the further extension “will provide a clear business pathway, especially to our restaurant and hospitality industries.”

Last year, the House started a working group to find ways to promote the state’s restaurants and culinary culture, but that panel was repurposed as a Restaurant Recovery Commission when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the government’s mitigation efforts dealt a devastating blow to the restaurant industry.

Earlier this week, Salem Sen. Joan Lovely filed a bill (SD 3047) with the backing of House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Brad Hill meant to help businesses that are unable to reopen access property tax relief.

The bill specifically seeks to help businesses in Phase 4 of the Baker administration’s reopening plan. Those businesses, which include bars, wedding venues and theaters, are not expected to be allowed to reopen until there is a vaccine or significant breakthrough in COVID-19 treatment, the governor has said.

Any business designated as part of Phase 4 would be allowed to “apply for a real estate tax abatement during any quarter of the fiscal year” under Lovely’s bill and the state would be on the hook to make up the difference in what a city or town receives as a result of an abatement obtained under the bill. The authorization would expire 90 days after the governor’s state of emergency order lapses or is lifted.

“Local companies and hard-working employees form the backbone of every Massachusetts municipality,” Lovely said. “I know every establishment wants to open again, but until we can safely do so I want to help businesses and their workers by giving them badly needed relief on the tax side so that they can hang on until Phase IV begins.”

Peabody Rep. Tom Walsh, who joined Lovely and Hill at a Topsfield wedding venue Monday to unveil Lovely’s bill, said that while many businesses have been creative in finding ways to stay afloat during the pandemic, Phase 4 outfits “don’t even have that opportunity.”

Despite Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy — who co-chairs the state’s reopening advisory board with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito — having said Phase 4 “is predicated on a medical breakthrough,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito has said the administration “would be willing to look at” an exception to allow some fans to attend New England Patriots games at Gillette Stadium this fall.

It is unclear whether the administration would consider similar exceptions for businesses that are less politically connected than one owned by Robert Kraft, who helped Baker secure a key shipment of protective gear from China at the height of the COVID-19 surge this spring. The administration’s phase designations are not static and the governor recently allowed arcades, which had been part of Phase 4, to reopen under specific guidelines as soon as Thursday.

U.S. House Leaders Reject $2 Trillion Compromise Plan

Dems Commit to Stay in Washington ‘Til Deal is Reached

Article Source: The State House News Service
Article By: Matt Murphy

SEPT. 15, 2020…..Congressional House Democrats said Tuesday that they would remain in Washington as long as it takes to strike a deal for another round of coronavirus relief spending, but a bipartisan effort to find middle ground with a new $2 trillion plan was quickly rejected by top Democrats, including Rep. Richard Neal.

The back-and-forth in Congress painted an increasingly murky picture of the prospects for federal relief at a time when Gov. Charlie Baker and state budget writers in the Legislature are craving any type of certainty in the midst of the pandemic.

Baker has said that any stimulus package that doesn’t include billions in relief for state and local government “doesn’t make a lot of sense” to him, but Republicans and Democrats in Washington remain far apart.

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts said after a conference call with House Democrats that the speaker was prepared to extend the session as long as it takes to get another coronavirus relief package passed.

“We cannot let Mitch McConnell try to run a Congressional calendar out on the suffering,” said Clark, the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus. “And so we are going to stand strong, and we are going to bring the voices of our constituents and families across this country here to Congress and say, ‘We see you. And we’re going to fight for you.’ And we will do that until we have relief for them.”

Congress and President Trump this year have agreed to well over $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, including the March passage of the CARES Act, and the Federal Reserve Bank has been aggressive with economic recovery plans. But as the pandemic has worn on, calls have persisted for additional aid to help people and the economy.

The House passed the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act in May, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have said they’d be willing to come down to $2.4 trillion to get a deal done. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, initially proposed a $1 trillion relief package, and then last week reduced that to about $650 billion in a “skinny” bill that Democrats blocked.

“This is a very simple question that we all here at the Capitol have to ask and answer. Is this an extraordinary event that has afflicted the American people or not? If it’s an extraordinary event then Congressional COVID-19 pandemic response should be extraordinary as well,” said Jeffries, the chair of the Democratic Caucus.

The press conference with Democratic leadership came after a House Democratic caucus meeting that lasted about an hour and 45 minutes, Jeffries said, and before the Problems Solvers Caucus – a group of 50 centrist House lawmakers from both parties – rolled out a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief framework.

The Problem Solvers’ plan would include $500 billion for states, extend enhanced unemployment benefits, but not at the full $600 a week level, and deliver another round of stimulus checks to families.

The framework was quickly rejected by eight Democratic committee chairs who issued a joint statement arguing that the proposal “leaves too many needs unmet.” Neal, a Springfield Democrat and chair of the Ways and Means Committee, signed the statement.

“While we appreciate every attempt at providing critical relief to American families, the Problem Solvers Caucus’ proposal falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy,” the chairs said.

Clark said she was “grateful that we have colleagues on both sides of the aisle who are trying to work towards a solution.”

“I hope that the Republicans on the Problem Solvers will be an inspiration to the Senate and come and join us back at the negotiating table,” Clark said.

With the annual state budget overdue and on hold, Baker and legislative leaders have been waiting for signs from Washington about additional budget relief, if any, that states like Massachusetts can expect this year.

State Rep. Todd Smola, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said the stalemate in Washington has made preparing for this fiscal year more challenging that it already was because of the pandemic.

State government is operating on a three-month interim budget that allocated over $16 billion, and runs out on Oct. 31. Smola said last week it was a “coin flip” whether the Legislature would be ready to move forward with a budget bill for the remainder of fiscal 2021 next month, or if another extension would be necessary.

“The big thing that we’re waiting on is to see what the federal government is going to do. We are waiting for some sort of federal action and I think everybody at the federal level is to blame for the inaction, from the White House right to the Senate and the House,” Smola said. “These folks have to get together and come up with an assistance package that is going to come back down to states so that we know how we can plan for the rest of the year.”

Smola said any guidance from the federal government would be “really, really helpful.”

“Now if Washington, D.C. comes down and says, ‘We’re giving you nothing folks. Tough luck, live with it. Great. And I mean great as in sarcastically great because at the end of the day we need that help but the uncertainty of not knowing that, it creates such a challenge for us at the state level,” Smola said last week on the News Service’s “State House Takeout” podcast.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said Tuesday that any relief package must “match the scale” of the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to Massachusetts having the highest unemployment rate in the country at 16.1 percent in July.

Markey called for a monthly cash payment of $2,000 to qualifying Americans to help them pay bills, and $4 billion to help make sure that all students have internet access at home for remote schooling.

“A monthly payment is the kind of big policy that provides relief on the scale that is needed,” Markey said.

Markey also said the $600-a-week enhanced unemployment benefit that expired in July should be extended through January 2021, and $1 billion in rental assistance should be accompanied by an extended moratorium on evictions.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak joined a call Tuesday with other public transit officials to request at least $32 billion in emergency funding as part of any relief package to help stabilize the finances of public transit agencies around the country.

The call, which was organized by the American Public Transportation Association, also featured business and transportation leaders, including former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Congress, Step up. Now’s the time,” La Hood said. “Please don’t shortchange critical public transit around the country.”

Poftak said that the number of rides per day on the MBTA plummeted during the pandemic from 1.3 million to a low of 140,000. He said usage is “climbing gently, but it’s climbing,” and has reached 280,000 trips per day.

Poftak said public transit will need to survive for any full economic recovery to be realized, but the T is facing a deficit next year of $300 million to $600 million, depending upon how ridership trends progress, and weighing service reductions and fare hikes.

“What we need is a federal government that will help us, that will help us sustain our service, that will help us rebuild our communities, that will help us get people where they need to go, which is why we all got into this business,” Poftak said.

North Central Mass Development Corp Provides Funding to Three Downtown Fitchburg Businesses

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) recently approved three loans totaling $55,000 to Strong Style Coffee, Bion Greek Kitchen and Mi Rinconcito Salvadoreno in Downtown Fitchburg.

 

Strong Style Coffee, owned and operated by Kimberly Jones on 37 Boulder Drive in Fitchburg, is a coffee shop that serves as a comfortable space where patrons can be creative and productive during the day and relax and enjoy events and entertainment at night. They offer coffee, pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and have a lunch menu, as well as beer and wine.  Their loan for $25,000 was used to re-finance business debt, and were a referral from NewVue Communities where Kimberly also worked on the financial plan for the loan application. Check out information on their upcoming events on their social media pages, at

https://www.facebook.com/strongstylecoffee/ or on Instagram at strongstylecoffee.

 

Bion Greek Kitchen received a $20,000 working capital loan to assist with operating expenses during the pandemic. Gregor and Violet Labovitis initially operated the business out of their home before eventually growing sales enough to open a physical location on 356 Main St., in Fitchburg. For more information visit their website at bion-greek.square.site or https://www.facebook.com/BionGreek1/?fref=tag.

 

Mi Rinconcito Salvadoreno is a start-up Latin American convenience store on Main St., Fitchburg at the site of the former Shack’s Clothing store. Owner Idelfonso Guzman and his wife Carmen decided to open the store after finding there were no reasonably close options for genuine Latin American oriented groceries in the area. The store opened on July 1, 2020 and features groceries, snacks and other novelties. For more information visit their store on 444 Main St., Fitchburg.

 

As a microloan lender, NCMDC can provide loans to small businesses up to $150,000 for working capital, equipment, inventory, expansion and working with our banking partners to provide gap financing for the final piece of a project.

MassDOT Fitchburg Virtual Public Information Meeting

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Invites you to a

Virtual Public Information Meeting

for the

Fitchburg – Water Street Bridges Replacement

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 at 6:30-8:00 PM

https://virtualmeeting.link/fitchburgwaterstbridges

This meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to hear an overview of the Fitchburg – Water Street Bridges Replacement project, including proposed construction staging and traffic impacts. The proposed project would replace two bridges along Water Street (Route 12) in the City of Fitchburg. The bridge over the Nashua River (F-04-018) will have its superstructure replaced. The bridge over Boulder Drive and Pan Am Railroad (F-04-017) will be fully replaced. Audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments.

All residents, abutters, local business owners, and interested commuters are invited to attend. A project fact sheet will be made available at the meeting.  All attendees who sign into the meeting and provide an email address will be entered into the project’s email database to receive construction updates.

This meeting is accessible to people with disabilities.  MassDOT provides reasonable accommodations and/or language assistance free of charge upon request (e.g interpreters in American Sign Language and languages other than English, live captioning, videos, assistive listening devices and alternate material formats), as available. For accommodation or language assistance, please contact MassDOT’s Chief Diversity & Civil Rights Officer by phone at (857) 368-8580, TTD/TTY at (857) 266-0603, fax (857) 368-0602 or by email to MASSDOT.CivilRights@dot.state.ma.us. Requests should be made as soon as possible prior to the meeting, and for more difficult to arrange services including sign-language, CART or language translation or interpretation, requests should be made at least ten business days before the meeting.

READ SPANISH VERSION HERE

Chamber Jobs Board

Since the COVID-19 crisis started, we have continued to prioritize job postings on our WorkNorthCentral.com online jobs board to help our members promote job opportunities at their business.  We currently have over 500 jobs listed from throughout the region. We also continue to actively promote the jobs board to qualified and skilled job seekers.

 

Why post a job on the WorkNorthCentral.com Jobs Board?

 

  • There is NO-COST for members to post jobs and there is no limit on the number of jobs you can post. Members at the Business Growth level and above also receive premium job postings, which are highlighted, promoted at the top of the jobs board and published on the Google Jobs Network;
  • Posting your jobs is SIMPLE! You can easily post and manage jobs yourself or email your jobs to Sabbra Reyes at  sreyes@northcentralmass.com and we will post it for you. You select the duration and then the jobs are automatically dropped when the job expires;
  • It is EASY for you to review resumes and connect with qualified candidates. You decide if you want applicants directed to your website or you can provide instructions for applying;
  • When you post your jobs, you are also supporting our economic development efforts! The Chamber’s Jobs Board is the largest localized jobs board of its kind showcasing job opportunities in North Central Massachusetts. The jobs board connects job seekers to opportunities and helps promote our dynamic region by showcasing the many diverse opportunities available.

 

We encourage you to consider posting any available job opportunities on this popular resource. Visit WorkNorthCentral.com or the Chamber’s website NorthCentralMass.com for more information or to post a job.

Legislative Update September 7th – September 11th

Article by: Matt Murphy
Article Source: State House News Service

SEPT. 11, 2020…..What lessons have been learned? What lessons will be taught? What past experiences can be put to good use to prepare for what’s down the road?

All these questions and more were on the minds of leaders this week as they returned to work after the extended Labor Day weekend, staring at the reality of time and the fact that the dreaded “fall resurgence” could actually be right around the corner.

“There’s a lot of scenario planning going on,” Baker said Tuesday, confronted with the possibility that the days of sub-1-percent positive testing rates may be numbered.

Those scenarios include making sure hospitals that survived the first wave of coronavirus without getting overrun are prepared again. And that the state’s testing labs are ready to handle the increased volume that could come from more college and grade school students getting tested, as well as people confusing symptoms from fall colds and the old-fashioned flu with COVID-19.

CommonWealth magazine reported that Partners in Health, which runs the state’s contact tracing program, is staffing up for the fall, and some outbreaks cropped up on campuses like Boston College’s.

But for now, the trends remain positive, even if the number of communities in the highest risk “red” category climbed by five to 13 this week. Some of that was explained by a cluster of restaurant staff in Chatham. And high schoolers in Dedham getting together to watch the Bruins playoff run.

But even those isolated cases can have consequences. Just look at the spread from one wedding in Millinocket, Maine. The puck party in Dedham was enough to force that town to cancel its plan to begin phasing in students for in-person learning on Sept. 21 after a remote start next week.

Secretary of State William Galvin too said he learned a few things from the first go-around with mail-in voting that he hopes to apply in November, including the need for more uniform ballot counting procedures, but he won’t be asking legislators for any changes to the law. What he has asked the administration for is more than $1 million to cover the cost of mailing another round of applications and ballots.

The unofficial end of summer also meant rethinking how some of the creative steps taken to allow the economy to begin to recover in the warm weather can be extended to chillier autumn days and night.

Baker visited Medford’s Bistro 5 on Thursday to announce that he was doubling the size of the Shared Streets and Spaces grant program from $5 million to $10 million to help restaurant owners like Vittorio Ettore afford modifications like heat lamps to extend the life of their new outdoor patios.

The governor also said that while the going was good he was prepared to allow outdoor and indoor arcades to reopen starting next week, a change to the reopening plan that came after the owner of the Salem arcade Bit Bar sued the administration, questioning why his business was being treated differently than casinos.

That’s not to say that’s the whole reason Baker decided to open arcades. But the courts are starting to become that player off the bench who just may have an outsized impact on the final outcome of the game.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf declined to intervene after a group of landlords sued over the state’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on Constitutional grounds. But the judge gave Baker more to think about over the next month when, according to the lawyer for the plaintiffs, he indicated that the ban’s shelf life may be coming to an end.

The landlord’s attorney Richard Vetstein said Wolf made clear that the ban’s utility as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19 is not indefinite, especially if the state continues to succeed in driving down infection rates. Baker faces a decision over whether to extend the moratorium beyond Oct. 17, and he’ll have to factor the court’s into his thinking.

With a possible return to Housing Court on the horizon for landlords and renters, a group of major health care providers and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh amplified calls to guarantee tenants facing eviction the right to counsel. Hard to see Michelle Wu argue against that, if as Walsh said Monday to great controversy, the popular city councilor is planning to run for mayor next year.

The Supreme Judicial Court also sat this week to hear arguments in a variety of cases, including one involving prisoners seeking release because of the threat of COVID-19 in incarceration.

Gov. Charlie Baker walked down the State House steps Friday morning carrying an American Flag to remember Sept. 11, 2001 at an annual flag-raising ceremony, absent the many others who normally attend. [David L. Ryan/Boston Globe/Pool]

The must-see-court-TV had to wait until Friday, though, when the SJC heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by small business owners, church leaders and educators that put Baker’s entire body of work during the pandemic up for judgement. The plaintiffs say Baker’s executive orders aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 overstepped his authority under the Civil Defense Act, and a ruling in their favor could negate everything from forced business closures to gathering size-limits.

Needless to say, the outcome of the case will have broad implications for executive power beyond this pandemic, including any future public health crises.

A week before that case was heard, Chief Justice Ralph Gants, 65, suffered a heart attack. He announced the health scare himself on Tuesday in a statement released by the court, indicating that he expected to make a full recovery after a surgery to insert two stents, but would be limited in his ability to judge cases for a time.

Justice Frank Gaziano on Friday said that while Gants would not be participating in oral arguments, he would be following the proceedings and helping to decide the case.

While not a court, per se, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board also fired a shot across the bow of teachers’ unions when it ruled against the Andover Education Association, finding that teachers who refused to enter school buildings and classrooms on Aug. 31 for back-to-school safety training had participated in an illegal strike.

It didn’t matter, the board said, that teachers deemed the school buildings unsafe and set up in school yards outside with laptops and prepared to work. They don’t have the authority, the CERB decided, to decide where they report for duty.

Baker said he agreed with the decision, and that there was nothing unsafe about returning to a “basically empty” school building for professional development.

But Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy lit into the governor and his administration for not starting school remotely this fall, and said the ruling would not stop teachers in other communities from doing what they needed to do to protect themselves.

With students in many communities prepared to either return to the classroom or fire up their Zoom rooms next week, the back-and-forth between local unions, school committees and the administration all point to a tense week to come and uncertainty about how much learning will actually be taking place.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Mourning summer.

SONG OF THE WEEK: Because everyone can use a reminder now and again, especially if Massachusetts is to avoid a COVID-19 backslide.

Chamber member Mattress by Appointment sees spike in new clients

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Chris Urbine, owner of Mattress by Appointment (MBA) in Fitchburg, MA, in his tracks. In fact, he says there has been an influx of new customers since the Baker-Polito’s reopening plan was released back in May 2020.

“People have been home a lot more, which makes them realize ‘I might need a new mattress,’” Urbine states. “They’ve been banging down our doors [in a good way] to get a new mattress!”

Mattress by Appointment is a parent company based out of Greensville, SC. Urbine’s brother started a MBA in Florida.  He saw how successful his brother was, and opened a location in Fitchburg, MA this past year. Urbine’s drive was to have a successful business that provided opportunities for him to support his family and lifestyle.

Urbine also mentioned that there hasn’t been a “new” normal when it comes to “the new normal.”

“The ‘new normal’ is what we’ve been doing anyway pre-pandemic,” Urbine said. As the name implies, MBA Fitchburg is open by appointment only. “Customers always have the whole store to themselves to get that one-on-one experience with us. Mattresses have always been sanitized in between appointments.  We always planned ahead to have mattresses in the store for customers to take home.  Right now, there’s a 6-8 week manufacturing delay, but we order everything ahead of time for customers to take home the same day, so there’s no delay due to COVID-19 manufacturing shortages. The only thing that’s really different is the social distancing and requiring a face covering in the store.”

Video appointments are also available for customers if they do not feel comfortable going in the store. They are a virtual way to shop for a new mattress, while still obtaining a personalized experience with MBA.

“Every day is a holiday at our store,” Chris Urbine, dealer of MBA Fitchburg, exclaimed. “Being open by appointment only and having no employees, we are able to keep the lowest possible prices year-round, so that our customers get the best price without having to sacrifice quality.”

Urbine looks forward to expanding a relationship with an existing vendor to add brand new contemporary, cost effective bed sets and adjustable bases. He expects these to roll out at MBA within the next 4 to 6 weeks and is very excited to share this with his customers looking to get a better mattress for themselves.

Mattress by Appointment is a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and looks forward to meeting their customers, either virtually on video, or in-person. They are located at 28 Ashby State Road, Fitchburg, MA, and you can schedule your appointment by texting or calling 978-400-0393.