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We’re About to See a Lot More Maskless Faces Inside Massachusetts Restaurants

Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state will lift all remaining COVID-19 guidelines on May 29, including its mask mandate

Stock photograph of a chef (bottom half visible) cooking with a fiery wok in a restaurant kitchen WStudio/Shutterstock

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Monday that the state intends to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions by May 29, as well as the state of emergency, which has been in place since March 10, 2020, by June 15. The face covering order will also be rescinded.

“The Department of Public Health will issue a new face covering advisory consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance,” said a statement from the Baker administration. The CDC’s latest guidance on masking states that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without masking or physically distancing “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

So, according to the new guidance, come May 29, fully vaccinated people could gather inside a restaurant dining room without masks, for example. The state advised unvaccinated people to continue masking and to continue socially distancing in most situations, however. Plus, businesses are free to continue to require customers to wear masks. (There’s definitely a feeling of “enforcement fatigue” among restaurant workers, though, and it’ll be even harder to enforce rules that aren’t backed by state mandate.)

In Massachusetts, face coverings will continue to be required for people riding on public and private transportation systems (including rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber, taxis, ferries, the MBTA, and other transportation networks), in healthcare facilities, and in other settings housing vulnerable populations (congregate care, nursing homes, etc.).

Come May 29, all businesses will be allowed to reopen at 100 percent capacity, and the gathering limit will be lifted. Restaurants will ostensibly no longer be required to space tables six feet apart — effectively removing whatever capacity caps still existed in the restaurant industry — and party size and reservation time limits will disappear.

“The administration is able to take these steps to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy because Massachusetts is on track to meet the goal set in December to fully vaccinate over 4 million individuals by the first week of June,” said the statement. “The Commonwealth leads the nation in vaccinating residents, with 75 percent of adults receiving at least one dose. To date, over 4 million residents have received a first dose, with 3.2 million fully vaccinated.”

Of course, reopening means that the future of wildly popular programs, including the state’s decision to allow restaurants to sell to-go cocktails, are in doubt. When the state legislature decided to allow restaurants to sell cocktails to-go, it did so on the condition that the privilege would be rescinded whenever Baker lifted the state of emergency.

Restaurants certainly don’t want to-go cocktails to go away, but it’s unclear at the moment whether they’ll get their wish, or if takeout cocktails will become a relic of the pandemic. (Some states, such as Texas and Florida, have already decided to make to-go cocktails permanent.) A spokesperson with Baker’s office told Eater that Baker, along with other legislators and municipalities, will “work on an orderly transition from the state of emergency” and will “have more on this issue as we get closer to the June 15 date.”

In a press conference Monday, Boston Mayor Kim Janey announced that the the city will align with the state’s reopening plans instead of trailing behind by a few weeks, as previously planned. Janey said that 58 percent of Boston residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and that the city’s number of active cases is the lowest it’s been since it began keeping track in April 2020.

“But let me be clear, our battle against COVID is not over,” said Janey. “Reopening will only work if we all continue doing our part to fight the pandemic.”

Janey was quick to emphasize that just 30 percent of the city’s Black and brown population has been vaccinated, and that the city had to do more to increase vaccine equity in its communities of color. To that end, Janey announced that Boston intends to double its investment in its vaccine equity grant program, committing an additional $3 million to the effort.

Baker Declares State Of Emergency; 92 Total Coronavirus Cases In Massachusetts [WGBH]
Massachusetts Bars and Restaurants Can Finally Sell Cocktails to Go (for Now) [EBOS]
Restaurants Don’t Want To-Go Cocktails to Go Away [BG]