BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts is relaxing its outdoor mask mandate as the numbers of hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in the state, the Baker administration said on Tuesday.
Beginning Friday, face masks will only be required outside in public when it's not possible to socially distance — or when required for other reasons, including at outdoor events.
Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places, including stores.
Face coverings will also continue to be required at all times at events, whether held indoors or outdoors and whether held in a public space or private home, except when eating or drinking.
At smaller gatherings in private homes, face coverings are recommended but not required.
The $300 fine that had been put in place as an enforcement mechanism will also be eliminated.
The Baker administration announced additional steps Tuesday to continue reopening the state.
Large venues like indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas and ballparks — currently operating at 12% capacity — will be allowed to increase to 25% capacity beginning May 10.
Amusement parks, theme parks and outdoor water parks will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity.
Road races and other large, outdoor organized amateur or professional group athletic events will be permitted with staggered starts, while youth and adult amateur sports tournaments will be allowed for moderate and high-risk sports.
Singing will also be allowed indoors with strict distancing requirements at performance venues, restaurants and other businesses.
Beginning May 29, street festivals, parades and agricultural festivals will be allowed to open at 50% of their previous capacity and bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries and distilleries will be subject to restaurant rules with seated service only, a 90-minute limit and no dance floors.
Restaurants will be allowed to increase the maximum table size to 10.
And beginning Aug. 1, other businesses will be allowed to open including nightclubs, indoor water parks, ball pits. saunas, hot-tubs, steam rooms at fitness centers and health clubs.
“I think the trends here, over the course of this, have been an incredibly powerful statement made by the people of Massachusetts," Gov. Charlie Baker said a Statehouse press conference.
“We are certainly more than past the midway point of this,” he added.
HIGH SCHOOLS REOPENING
Public high schools in Massachusetts will resume full-time, in-person learning by May 17, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
“We believe it’s critical to get all of our kids back with their teachers and their peers to learn and socialize and to have a chance in this very long and difficult year to be a kid," he said.
Elementary schools resumed in-person classes statewide on April 5. Middle schools are expected to reopen full time this week.
The state’s pool testing program has revealed positives tests rates at or below one percent, the Republican said at a Statehouse press conference.
Pool testing allows schools to test students, staff and teachers in batches — and only return to test individually if a batch reveals a positive result.
“There’s little to virtually no evidence of in-school transmission of COVID,” Baker said. “Thanks to the testing, vaccines and everyone’s work to get COVID in check, Massachusetts high school students will be returning to in-person learning on May 17.”
PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES AND VACCINATIONS
Students at all nine schools in the Massachusetts state university system will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to participate in on-campus activities this fall, the schools' presidents announced.
The requirement applies to undergraduate and graduate students attending in-person classes, conducting on-campus research, living on campus or participating in other campus activities.
“Prior to the beginning of the fall semester and following state, federal and legal guidance, the Massachusetts State Universities will require all students to be fully immunized before returning to campus in September,” James Birge, president of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and chair of the Massachusetts State University Council of Presidents said in a statement Monday.
Medical and religious exemptions will be made.
The other eight schools are Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State, Framingham State, Salem State, Westfield State, Worcester State, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Combined, they have about 52,000 students.
The presidents said they expect all faculty and staff will also be fully vaccinated prior to their return to campus for the fall semester.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by about 800 on Tuesday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 4.
The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,215 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to about 642,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were about 630 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 160 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 61. There were an estimated 28,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
About 5.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including about 3.4 million first doses and about 2.2 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
About 2.4 million people have been fully immunized.