Baker’s course on virus draws fire from left and right

When it comes to mask mandates, you can’t please everyone.

Gov. Charlie Baker last week announced that he will “strongly recommend” that elementary school students wear face coverings, but he will not mandate it. Statements from two of the candidates running for governor in 2022 made clear the tough political position Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will be in next year, facing what is likely to be steady pressure from both the left and the right. Baker has not said whether he will run for a third term. If he doesn’t, Polito is expected to run to replace him.

From the right, Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, a former state representative, put out a statement the day before Baker published his guidance calling on Baker to reject pressure to impose any kind of mask mandate, in schools or elsewhere.

“Children across the Commonwealth have been devastated emotionally, socially, and educationally in the past 18 months due to the mandates placed on them,” Diehl said in a statement. “To force them back into masks will disrupt their much-needed return to normal living and educational practices.”

Geoff Diehl

Diehl said more broadly that Baker should reject mandates for masks and vaccines. “The people of Massachusetts are smart and capable of making their own health decisions for themselves and for their families, including whether to get vaccinated or to voluntarily wear a mask,” Diehl said.

From the left, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing, a former state senator, accused Baker after the school guidance was announced of failing to articulate a clear, statewide policy, resulting in a patchwork of responses that exacerbates inequality between communities. “As the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread, the people of Massachusetts need clarity and consistency on how to best approach protocols for vaccination and mask mandates in schools, employment, and social environments throughout the Commonwealth,” Downing said in a statement.

Downing urged Baker to adopt CDC guidelines, which require vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in areas with high transmission rates of COVID – while Diehl explicitly called on Baker to reject the CDC’s approach.

Baker, as is typical, took a middle path. He did not mandate masks in schools, but strongly recommended them for unvaccinated students and staff, leaving the decision to local districts. The Department of Public Health recommended masks for vaccinated people indoors only if people are at particular risk of severe disease or living with someone high-risk.

Baker on Wednesday did  impose a vaccine mandate on staff at long-term care facilities. The state has also required face coverings in health care facilities and on public transportation.

Baker said he does not feel the need to adopt CDC guidelines regarding indoor masking based on county-level transmission because that guidance changes frequently and people travel between counties. He has also said he believes Massachusetts is in a better place than other states that adopted statewide COVID protocols because of the state’s high vaccination rate. 

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Vaccine mandate: Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration issued an order requiring all 380 nursing home and soldiers home workers to get fully vaccinated by October 10. The mandate is a shift for Baker, who has resisted such calls previously. The mandate comes on the heels of a five-fold increase in nursing home resident and staff COVID-19 cases the last 30 days and an increase in deaths.

— The union representing nursing home workers opposed mandating vaccinations while nursing home executives worried that the mandate might prompt some workers to leave and take jobs elsewhere. Overall, however, nursing home operators welcomed the mandate.

— According to the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, an advocacy group that represents nursing homes, 75 percent of nursing home staff are vaccinated. But public health officials said that, as of August 2, there were 155 facilities with less than 75 percent of their staff fully vaccinated. Read more.

Ramping up again: The state is expanding its contact tracing initiative again, extending a contract with Partners in Health that had been scheduled to expire in September through the end of the year. The number of employees, currently at 130, is also expected to rise by as much as 300. The move is another sign that COVID-19 is not going away. Read more.

Direct democracy: Thirty ballot questions were filed with the attorney general’s office covering everything from workers in the gig economy to the Transportation Climate Initiative to the way history is taught in Massachusetts schools. Most of the questions won’t survive the attorney general’s review and the gauntlet of signature gathering required to get them on the ballot. Read more.

OPINION

911 upgrade: Danna Mauch of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health makes the case for legislation that would improve 911 calls right for mental health emergencies. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Lawmakers consider whether to ban the sale of dolls that look like children but are intended for use in sexual activities – products some say encourage sexual abuse. (Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton police are ramping up their crackdown on dirt bikes and ATVs rampaging through city streets. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Biden administration is developing a plan to require all visitors to the country to be vaccinated. (Reuters) Attorney General Maura Healey will require her staff to be vaccinated when they return to the office September 27. (WBUR)

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River will stock its bathrooms with free menstrual products this year and is encouraging the rest of the state to follow suit. (Herald News)

Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 account for 100 deaths among those vaccinated in Massachusetts. The number represents a rate of 0.002 percent of the 4.3 million people fully-vaccinated in the state. (Enterprise) The CDC now considers 12 of 14 Massachusetts counties at high or substantial risk for COVID transmission. (MassLive)

After criticizing former President Obama’s birthday plans, Gov. Charlie Baker is leading by example and asking attendees of his upcoming fundraiser to be vaccinated or get tested 48 hours ahead of the event. (WBUR)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Former Democratic Massachusetts congressman Michael Capuano and ex-Republican governor of Vermont Jim Douglas co-author an op-ed on ways to unite a divided country. One idea is to promote reforms that would increase turnout in primaries, where they say low turnout “increases the power of the most polarized voters.” (Capuano lost his seat in 2018 in a Democratic primary face-off with Ayanna Pressley.) (Boston Globe)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is increasingly politically isolated as one-time supporters join the calls for him to resign and four different county district attorneys in the state say they’ve opened investigations into his behavior. (New York Times

ELECTIONS

Child care is emerging as a major issue in the Boston mayor’s race, with all the major candidates except Acting Mayor Kim Janey releasing detailed plans for addressing the issue. (Boston Globe)

Andrea Campbell upped her criticism of Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s comments invoking slavery and birtherism in rejecting the idea of requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants and other venues, calling it “absolutely ridiculous” and saying “there is already too much misinformation directed at our residents about this pandemic, particularly for Black and brown residents.” (Boston Globe

Rev. Eugene Rivers calls on the Boston mayoral candidates to speak out with plans to tackle gun violence. (Boston Herald)

A ballot question being pushed by gig companies would expand benefits such as a guaranteed minimum wage, health care, paid time off, and accident insurance, but would stop short of declaring them employees. (WBUR) It’s one of 28 measures filed by yesterday’s deadline, the first step toward a question appearing on the 2022 statewide ballot. (Boston Globe)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl called for a “forensic audit” of last November’s election, citing “possible irregularities” but pointing to no specifics. Election officials in Massachusetts and across the country have said there is no evidence of such fraud. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The cannabis industry in Massachusetts remains largely white and male. (MassLive)

Security firms in Massachusetts are growing in the face of skyrocketing cybersecurity issues. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius is no longer licensed to run the district after failing to take the required test to be licensed as a superintendent. She says she’s been too busy handling the pandemic, but will make plans to take the test. (Boston Globe)

Worcester officials are trying to come up with a plan to replace school resource officers, amid controversy over having a police presence in schools. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

President Biden will announce a far-reaching plan today to move the country toward electric vehicles over the coming decade. (Washington Post

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Hundreds of acres of lost marshland and billions of dollars in home and infrastructure damage are the predicted results of climate change on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, according to a report released Wednesday. (Patriot Ledger)

More endangered right whales are swimming in areas designated for offshore wind projects. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Rep. Lori Trahan is trying to get a bill through Congress that would set federal drinking water standards limiting the amount of chemicals, called PFAS, that can be found in water and give local communities money for PFAS remediation. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A judge declines to issue charges against a Worcester police officer accused of stealing a protester’s phone during the George Floyd protests. (Telegram & Gazette)

A West Springfield police captain is facing jail time after stealing $18,000 from the police evidence room. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Gannett shutters the struggling Melrose Free Press. (Media Nation)