May 15, 2021

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Baker relaxes outdoor mask mandate in Mass., announces timeline for reopening bars, other businesses – BetaBoston

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The proposed Massachusetts calendar, which Baker stressed is dependent on health trends, gives state residents a roadmap for a gradual return to pre-COVID life.

Effective Friday, face coverings in Massachusetts “will only be required outside in public when it is not possible to socially distance, and at other times required by sector-specific guidance,” Baker’s office said. “Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places.”

During a media briefing Tuesday, Baker cited the increasing number of vaccinated residents and better public health data as factors in the decision to loosen restrictions.

“Since March 22, when our last set of restrictions were lifted, the public health data has improved across the board,” Baker said. “New daily cases have dropped by about 20 percent. The positivity rate of cases dropped by half a percentage point to 1.72 percent, one of the lowest levels we’ve seen since last summer.”

He said continued enthusiasm for getting vaccinated in Massachusetts, where more than 5 million total doses have been administered so far, will be key to moving forward with reopening.

“I know I speak for everybody up here when I say how grateful we are that so many people in Massachusetts have stepped up and gotten vaccinated and played by the rules for such a long period of time,” Baker said.

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While the road ahead remains difficult, the governor continued, “we are certainly more than past the midway point of this.”

On May 29, Baker’s office said, bars, breweries, wineries, and distilleries will be allowed to open with seated service only. They’ll also have a 90-minute seating limit, and no dance floors will be allowed.

Road races, youth sports, and pro franchises are also getting a boost next month.

Starting May 10, officials said, stadiums like Fenway Park and TD Garden will be allowed to increase fan capacity from 12 percent to 25 percent. Also May 10, road races and other large, outdoor athletic events will be permitted with staggered starts, after organizers submit safety plans to local health boards or the state Department of Public Health.

“If you go to Fenway Park, whether you’re vaccinated or not, we’re going to expect you to wear a mask and socially distance. Period,” Baker told reporters.

In addition, youth and adult amateur sports tournaments starting May 10 will be allowed for moderate and high-risk sports, according to the statement issued by Baker’s office late Tuesday morning.

Further loosening of restrictions will happen May 29, when gathering limits will increase to 200 people indoors and 250 people outdoors for event venues, public settings, and private gatherings, provided that health and vaccination data supports the move, officials said.

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Restaurant guidance will also be updated May 29 to eliminate the requirement that food be served with alcohol and to increase the maximum table size to 10, Baker’s office said.

Then the state’s set to take a significant leap forward Aug. 1, when venues like dance clubs and night clubs, saunas and steam rooms at fitness centers, indoor water parks, and ball pits open their doors — again, as long as the public health data shows it is safe.

Aug. 1 is also the tentative date that all industry restrictions will be lifted, and capacity can increase to 100 percent, officials said.

Baker said during the briefing that with more vaccines, the state hopes “we can take this step earlier, but it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated and doing the right things.”

His office issued similar guidance in the earlier statement.

“Depending on vaccine distribution and public health data, the Administration may consider re-evaluating the August 1st date,” the statement said. “The Department of Public Health will also continue to issue guidance as needed, including guidance to still require masks indoors.”

The moves bring Massachusetts into Phase 4, Step 2 of its economic reopening.

The announcement Tuesday signals that the Boston Marathon, which wasn’t run during its normal April slot this year or last, can go forward in October.

Tom Grilk, president and CEO of the Boston Athletic Association, the race organizer, announced in January that the event had been rescheduled for Oct. 11, public health metrics permitting.

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Customarily held each Patriots Day Monday in April, the marathon “race” last year became a virtual event that took place in a span of one week in early September.

Boston’s Acting Mayor Kim Janey was slated to brief reporters at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Steve Walsh, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, credited residents’ adherence to COVID protocols during the pandemic as the reason for the relaxed restrictions announced Tuesday.

“For well over a year now, Massachusetts residents have answered the call put forth by state and healthcare leaders to follow public health guidance and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Walsh said in a statement. “While we all still have work to do in order to reach a new normal, this diligence has paid off. Our healthcare organizations are pleased that patients can safely return to the activities that they have missed – many of which are inextricably connected to their mental wellbeing.”

Walsh added that even as the statewide reopening continues, “patients should know that strict safety protocols will remain in place within our hospitals and healthcare facilities. We thank the Baker Administration for its measured approach to reopening our state and for its ongoing support of our healthcare system.”

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also briefed reporters Tuesday and said the planned reopening steps were encouraging.

“We are pleased that as the vaccination rates continue to rise, we can look forward to doing more,” Polito said.

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How much more, of course, depends on the virus data; Baker said Tuesday that he wants to take in a concert with his family once the dust settles.

“But I don’t want to do that until we get to the point where that can be done in a way where people won’t be putting one another and each other at risk by virtue of doing that,” he said.

The governor added that he looks forward to getting his second dose of the Prizer vaccine.

“Because that means two weeks from now I can hug my dad, which I haven’t done yet,” Baker said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Material from prior Globe stories was also used.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.

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