BOSTON — Nearly a year to the day since the Baker administration announced its reopening plan for the commonwealth's economy, the governor Monday announced that remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be largely lifted effective May 29.
As of that date, Massachusetts residents will no longer be required to wear face coverings in most indoor or outdoor settings, and all industries will be permitted to open with capacity limits raised to 100 percent for all industries. Gathering limits likewise will be lifted.
In a late morning news conference, Baker announced that he will be lifting the State of Emergency order effective June 15 as the commonwealth is expected to meet its goal of having 4.1 million residents fully vaccinated by early June.
Baker and other members of administration Monday credited the efforts of Bay Staters with getting the commonwealth to a place where the economy can be fully reopened.
"The commitment the people of Massachusetts made to this whole process and especially the vaccine rollout -- I don't know if there are any states in the country that have a 99 percent return rate for the second vaccine like we do," Baker said. "What I really feel is gratitude for the way the people of Massachusetts have responded to this."
In some areas of everyday life, the mask mandate will continue to be place, specifically in K-12 schools, in health care and long-term care facilities and on public transportation.
But even in schools, there will be some relaxation of the rules, and the changes will come even sooner.
"We are also updating guidance for K-12 schools and early education providers," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. "Effective May 18, masks will no longer be required for outdoor activities, like recess, in these settings. [The Department Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Early Education and Care] are also updating their guidance for the sharing of objects in classrooms, like toys and books."
Baker said that while the face-covering order will be lifted in most circumstances, he still is encouraging anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated to continue to wear a mask when inside, practice good hygiene and follow social distancing guidelines.
He was asked whether he had confidence in people who have not yet chosen to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus also complying with an "honor system" around face covering. Baker avoided answering directly and pivoted to another discussion of the reasons why residents should get vaccinated.
"I'll come back to the point that was made previously: People, for the most part, around Massachusetts are still, in many cases, wearing masks, and doing so on their own," Baker said. "I think the message from us is, if you're fully vaccinated, the data and the guidance from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is pretty clear: You're very unlikely to transmit it, you're very unlikely to get COVID. If you're not vaccinated, you should get vaccinated for all the reasons we've talked about before, for yourself and your family and the safety of your friends and your neighbors.
"But if you're not vaccinated, you should wear a mask indoors."
Baker and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy stressed that businesses will be allowed to continue to ask their customers to wear masks after the statewide mandate is lifted.
"Kindness, understanding and respect will go a long way in these coming weeks," Kennealy said. "Though masks and face coverings will, in most situations, be optional for those who are fully vaccinated, there will be business owners who will choose to require them.
"That is OK.
"Just as many residents will continue to wear masks on a go-forward basis, some restaurants, stores and venues will continue to ask you to do so at their place of business. Let's all pledge to respect everybody's right to get back to normal at our own pace and in our own way."
Kennealy said the decision to set May 29 as the date to fully reopen the economy was made to enable businesses to prepare for the reopening and, if needed, to adjust staffing levels.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders noted Monday that April 20, 2020, was the date of the commonwealth's initial face-covering advisory.
"There has been much progress over this past year," Sudders said. "Additionally, in order to continue protecting some of our most vulnerable populations, effective May 29, face-coverings will continue to be required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at all times in the following locations: on public and private transportation … including ride shares … inside K-through-12 public schools and as otherwise required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education … inside child-care programs licensed and regulated by the Department of Early Education and Care and as otherwise required by EEC, in health-care facilities and health-care provider officers."
Polito said the Tuesday, May 18, end to requiring masks for outdoor activities during the school day is coupled with an end to face-covering mandates for participants in outdoor youth and amateur sports in the commonwealth. But that does not mean that the requirement for face-coverings in high school sports will immediately go away.
Participants in sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and track and field will continue to be required to wear face coverings unless and until the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association board votes to rescind that part of the sport modifications it put in place before the spring season.
"[A] statement will be ready when the MIAA governance process has been completed," MIAA spokesperson Tara Bennett said Monday in reply to an email seeking comment. "Communication and collaboration with the [Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs] is on-going at this time. Until then, current guidelines remain in place."
Baker declined to declare Monday's announcement as a sign that the COVID-19 pandemic is "over" in the commonwealth when asked if he was doing just that.
"COVID's a little bit like Michael Myers," Baker joked, referring to the villain in the "Halloween" series of horror films who never seems to die.
"What I would say is we've made tremendous progress, and that is why we're able to do what we're doing here and what we're proposing here today. When you have three out of every four adults on the verge of being fully vaccinated, and I assume we'll see similar performance out of our younger folks as they become eligible, and when roughly 90 percent of everyone over the age of 75 is vaccinated, you're talking about a circumstance where the people of Massachusetts have set the commonwealth up to be successful from here.
"But, obviously, this is something we're all going to have to continue to pay attention to, and we will."
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PITTSFIELD, Mass — Berkshire Community College (BCC) announced its plans to use $335,000 in federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to erase outstanding balances accrued by students enrolled in credit degree or certificate programs from March 13, 2020 through May 31, 2021.
HEERF funds were earmarked as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Students affected by the program have been informed via letter, which states:
"We care about you, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help you continue to meet your educational goals at BCC. We appreciate the challenges of being a college student during the pandemic, and we are here to help you moving forward."
Pittsfield's Emmanuel Nda broke a meet record and helped the Generals break into the top 10 at Saturday's Central/Western Massachusetts Division 1 Championships at Westfield State University. click for more
Nearly a year to the day since the Baker Administration announced its reopening plan for the commonwealth’s economy, the governor Monday announced that remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be largely lifted effective May 29. click for more