Massachusetts will fully reopen on August 1
Outdoor mask mandate ends Friday
MASSACHUSETTS WILL LIFT its outdoor mask mandate this Friday and will plan to be fully reopened by August 1, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday. And with summer coming, residents can finally begin planning for a summer of fun, as the state next month loosens restrictions on ballparks, bars, theme parks, sports, and street festivals.
“The light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the hard work of so many, is getting closer, and we can start to look ahead with real optimism for the path forward,” Baker said at a State House press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Under the new guidelines, as of April 30, masks will no longer be required outdoors when it is possible to socially distance. Masks will still be required at organized events, both indoors and outdoors, when social distancing is not possible, and in all indoor public places. Face coverings may also be required by businesses operating in outdoor spaces, depending on industry-specific guidelines.
There will no longer be fines imposed for violating mask mandates. Face coverings will be recommended, but no longer required, at small gatherings inside homes.
As of May 10, large venues like ballparks and arenas, indoors and outdoors, will be allowed to increase their capacity from 12 percent to 25 percent.
Amusement parks, theme parks, and outdoor water parks will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, with safety plans.
Road races and large, outdoor athletic events and sports tournaments will be allowed, with safety precautions like staggered race start times.
Singing will be allowed indoors at performance venues and restaurants, with distancing requirements in place.
An additional relaxing of regulations will occur May 29. On that date:
The gathering limits will increase to 200 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.
Street festivals, parades, and agricultural festivals will be allowed at half capacity.
Restaurants will be allowed to increase their maximum table size to 10 and eliminate a requirement that food be served with alcohol.
As of August 1, the state plans to finally eliminate most business restrictions, which will have been in place in some form for close to a year and a half. Dance clubs, nightclubs, saunas, and indoor water parks will be allowed to reopen for the first time since COVID hit. All industry restrictions and capacity limits will be lifted. The Department of Public Health will issue guidance at that time, which may include still requiring masks indoors.
Baker indicated that he is not inclined to lift the indoor mask mandate until there is more research and data that shows lifting the mandate would be warranted. “At this point in time, we believe the vast majority of the rules that are in place with respect to masks indoors have had a lot to do with helping us manage case counts and hospitalizations,” Baker said.
Baker’s move to lift restrictions comes as case numbers are starting to drop and more and more residents are getting vaccinated against COVID. As of Monday, 3.5 million Massachusetts adults had gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and the numbers of vaccinated individuals are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks, now that all adults are eligible for the shot and appointments are easier to get. Baker repeatedly urged residents to get vaccinated, saying it is only because of the high vaccination rates that the state is able to look towards reopening.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released new guidance Tuesday relaxing outdoor mask mandates for vaccinated people.
Baker officials said the exact dates for reopening could still be adjusted based on public health metrics. Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito both said they hope the full reopening could occur before August 1, but that will depend on public health metrics moving in the right direction – primarily case counts, hospitalizations, and numbers of vaccinations.
Baker has been issuing executive orders since last March under a state of emergency that he declared due to the pandemic. His authority was challenged in court, but upheld. Asked if he will lift that state of emergency after the August reopening, Baker did not give a definitive answer. He said he is continuing to review the issue and, “We’re going to let data drive our decision making.”
Education Commissioner Jeff Riley also announced Tuesday that all high schools will be expected to reopen for full in-person learning by May 17, unless they receive a waiver from the state. All elementary schools are already open fully in person, and middle schools are required to reopen fully by this Wednesday.
Baker, discussing the decision at his press conference, said, “We believe it’s critical to get all students back with their teachers and peers to learn and socialize and have a chance, in this very long and difficult year, to be a kid.”In announcing the final stages of the state’s reopening after a long, difficult year, Baker at times grew emotional. “It’s easily been the longest year of my life, and I think for lot of people, the longest, most difficult, in some case the most brutal,” Baker said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am my dad survived this whole thing because that sure wasn’t true for a lot of other people.”
Asked about concerns about getting side effects from his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which Baker planned to get later Tuesday afternoon, Baker said side effects vary by person and he will play it by ear. But, he continued, “I’m really glad I’m getting my second shot. That means two weeks from now I can hug my dad, which I haven’t done yet.”