Cambridge City Council calls for restrictions on indoor dining, other activities

By Charlie Wolfson, Globe Correspondent. Updated November 24, 2020, 12:02 a.m. (Boston Globe)

Cambridge City Hall
Cambridge City HallDavid L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Cambridge City Council is pushing for new restrictions on indoor dining and other “non-essential indoor activities,” voting 7-1 Monday night on a measure urging the city manager to work with other municipalities to come up with more aggressive measures intended to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council does not have the power to shutter businesses on its own, but members said they wanted to send a clear message about the direction of municipal policy during the ongoing public health crisis.

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiquisaid at Monday’s meeting that Cambridge’s rules may have to be stricter than those imposed at the state level: “As has happened in the past, we may have to do more than the governor.” Siddiqui added that new rules would have to come as part of a coordinated regional strategy.

The order also instructed city manager Louis DePasquale to organize a financial program to give relief to restaurants and other businesses that are hurt by a new shutdown. Cambridge’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is at 22.3 after staying under five continuously from June through late October.Get Today’s Headlines in your inboxThe 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.

“Indoor activities are contributing to the rise in cases in Cambridge, getting our metrics dangerously close to closing schools and resuming remote only learning again,” the order reads. “We must take action to restrict the activities of non-essential businesses and gatherings in order to keep our schools open.”

The order also called on the city manager’s office to look into “what interventions can be universally implemented to make indoor business activities safer.”

In public comments before the vote at Monday night’s meeting, business owners said the council had not fully considered the safety measures that restaurants are already taking. They said more closures could be ruinous.

Michael Monestime, executive director of the Central Square Business Improvement District, said during the meeting shutting down indoor dining would exacerbate existing economic problems.

“We really need to think that a shutdown is going to cause major issues between tenants and landlords, who are already at odds with each other,” Monestime said. “And ultimately this is going to be on the back of low-income earners who are out of unemployment funds. I urge this Council to focus its time to work with state legislators to understand what is possible.”

The council’s order, though, said that epidemiologists have recommended closing bars, casinos and gyms as a way to keep schools open, and that research has shown a correlation between indoor activities and community spread of COVID-19.

Pammy Willis, who runs the restaurant Pammy’s on Massachusetts Avenue, said a shutdown would need to come with financial support for restaurant workers and noted that having diners in restaurants could be safer than some alternatives.

“People will still celebrate their birthdays,” Willis said. “They will. They’ll just do it at home, and they’ll get drunk, and they’ll infect each other. At least at restaurants, they’ll do it safely and we monitor it.”

Siddiqui said the order is meant to facilitate a regional, cooperative response to the crisis.

“There’s no consensus yet on what mayors and town managers and municipalities will do,” Siddiqui said. “That’s the first part of it, and it’s ongoing. This is ongoing conversations happening, and that’s the purpose of the order.”

Cambridge Local First