Baker launches tougher ‘honor’ system for travelers

Orders quarantines; road traffic returning to year-ago levels

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday announced tougher-sounding restrictions on nearly all travelers entering the state from outside the region, requiring them to quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous three days.

The order, which takes effect August 1, is very similar to voluntary restrictions already in place, but it comes with a new form to be filled out and a $500-a-day fine for noncompliance. The form, available online, requires travelers to report where they come from, where they will be staying, and how they can be contacted, which will allow local boards of health and the state’s contact tracing collaborative to make sure they are in compliance.

The process sounds rigorous, with airlines, rental car companies, bus operators, hotels, and short-term rental lodging operations required to notify their customers about the new rules. But Baker indicated the onus will be on travelers to comply and enforcement will be carried out with a light tough. He said state troopers won’t be pulling over drivers coming into Massachusetts from out of state. As with wearing masks and practicing good hygiene, Baker said, Massachusetts will operate largely on an honor system.

“The honor system in Massachusetts has worked pretty well,” Baker said.

The new order applies to all travelers – those from out of state as well as Bay State residents returning to Massachusetts. There are exceptions, however, for people coming from low-risk COVID states, including Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. People passing through the state, commuting across state lines for work, seeking medical treatment, or working in federally designated critical infrastructure sectors are also exempt.

The qualifications for a low-risk COVID state are six or fewer cases per 100,000 residents and positive test rates of 5 percent or less. Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said Massachusetts currently has a 1.8 percent positive test rate and 3.6 cases per 100,000 residents.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said part of the reason for the new travel order is increasing traffic on the roads and at Logan International Airport.

Road traffic appears to be rebounding strongly. Pollack said traffic at key checkpoints around the state during the first three weeks of July was just 10 to 15 percent less than it was at the same time a year ago.

At Logan, Pollack said, traffic is coming back more slowly. She said 3,300 passengers on average went through security checkpoints at Logan in May, a number that increased to just over 7,000 in June, and rose to just over 12,000 in the early part of July. She noted 51 of the roughly 200 to 300 flights arriving at Logan each day originate in California, Florida, and Texas, three states seeing a steep run-up in COVID-19 cases.

“We are seeing more people moving around, both within Massachusetts and from out of state,” Pollack said.

Baker repeatedly praised Massachusetts residents of all ages for continuing to do the COVID basics – wearing masks, social distancing, and following good hygiene practices.

“A lot of what’s driving the increase in cases coming out of the South is just an astonishing run-up in positive test rates for the under-30 crowd,” Baker said. “We do not have that.”

Baker said the per capita positive test rate of the under-30 age group has increased, but only relative to the other age groups.  He said the per capita positive test rate of the over-60 age group was very high in April and May, but has since crashed. He said the 30-60 group’s rate was high, but has also crashed. And he said the under-30 crowd was “reasonably high,” but has also crashed.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Baker said younger people seem to be responding to COVID the same way older residents are. “Our young people for the most part seem to be doing all the same things,” he said.

But the governor said he had concerns about the young people who gathered fairly close together on the beach in South Boston last weekend, many of them without face coverings. If that continues, Baker said, officials may have to limit how many people can be on the beach at once.