Nearing A Largely Mask-Free Future, Mass. Residents Must Still Use Them In Some Situations

May 24, 2021

Not all masks are coming off on Saturday, May 29, the day Massachusetts is scheduled to lift pandemic restrictions on businesses as well as on mask wearing.

However, for folks who haven't gotten vaccinated yet and for those visiting hospitals, attending a K-12 school or even heading to Cape Cod for a long weekend, they should still pack masks.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: There seem to be there are a lot of unknowns in this reopening. What is known?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Yeah, I think you're right. You hit on a number of the areas where masks are still going to be required, most notably if you have not been vaccinated yet, the rules on May 29 are not going to change all that much. The state is still asking unvaccinated people to wear their masks indoors in public. Of course, the outdoor relaxation of masks is still in place.

But moving forward for everyone as well, one of the big areas is that masks will continue to be required on public transit, on trains, busses, in stations — like South Station or North Station in Boston, at the local bus stations. And then if you're going to the doctor's office or visiting someone in the hospital, you'll continue to be required to wear masks in health care settings like that, as well as nursing homes and other congregate care settings. So, masks are still going to be with us for some time.

Some businesses like MGM Springfield follow additional health and safety guidelines and will still have face covering mandates after May 29. But it's possible casinos and racetracks could be unmasking soon. What do we expect gaming regulators to do when they meet this week?

Yeah, the state's overall mask requirements and COVID-19 restrictions apply broadly to businesses like casinos. But the Massachusetts Gaming Commission went in and adapted the state's guidelines to their own businesses.

So, they're going to be meeting this week to consider whether or not to lift their capacity limit, which they're currently operating at 40% capacity, but then they're also going to look at things like whether or not players should be masked on the gaming floor. Can they expand the number of seats at a blackjack table from the current limit of four? Can they move the slot machines closer together to fit more slots and players on the floors?

And we're hearing that a lot of people are asking this question and they'll be trying to answer it: Can they bring poker back to the gaming floor at casinos? So, the Gaming Commission's going to be looking at the state guidelines and taking a look at how they've been applied in their own operations and adjusting accordingly.

Last week, Governor Charlie Baker delivered a long list of pandemic executive orders to legislative leaders. Those are the things that will expire in June if the legislature doesn't act. Are you aware of any measures that you anticipate lawmakers will be tackling first? What are the priorities here?

We don't know what, if anything, they're going to do. A lot of the executive orders have to do with some of the capacity limits and guidelines and workplace restrictions. But there are a number of other things that lawmakers will be looking at that they did in state law, such as to-go cocktails. There’s a big push from the restaurant industry to consider keeping to-go cocktails on the menu, as well as keeping fees for third-party delivery services capped.

So, that's one thing that lawmakers are being asked to look for, and another is municipal meetings. Can people continue to meet remotely and use Zoom meetings or do they have to go back right now to in-person meetings? Those are a couple of things that lawmakers will be looking at.

Finally, Governor Baker says he has no intention of following other Republican governors and eliminating a $300 a week federal unemployment boost. But, he has also not offered up a $1,000 bonus for people who return to the workforce, as Connecticut and New Hampshire are doing. Is Baker getting pressure from the business community to make either of those moves?

Yes, some governors like Governor Sununu in New Hampshire are using a different incentive, as he's starting to reject $300 enhanced unemployment benefits — that's part of the federal program. Governor Baker says he's likely to stick with that $300 add-on to checks through its expiration in September.

But, yes, he is facing pressure particularly from businesses — as seasonal businesses on Cape Cod are facing real difficulty hiring workers. Some of these people may find it better to continue collecting unemployment. That is what some businesses say. Others say it could be that they've decided they don't want to work in certain industries, like the hospitality industry, anymore.

The governor is sticking with it for now. But one thing the state is doing, they have moved to put back in place the search-for-work requirements, that if you are collecting unemployment benefits, you do have to show that you are looking for work at the same time.