Governor Charlie Baker on May 1 signed an order requiring face masks or coverings for everyone when six feet of distance cannot be maintained, both indoors and out. The order went into effect on May 6, and children under the age of two and those unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition are exempt.
Face coverings must be worn inside pharmacies, grocery stores, and other retail stores, and “also when providing or using the services of any taxi, car, livery, ride-sharing, or similar service or any means of mass public transit, or while within an enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area,” the order states.
The order also states that people are “strongly discouraged” from wearing medical-grade masks, as those are in limited supply and should be saved for first responders and healthcare workers.
“This is going to be basically a way of life, okay, there’s no ifs, no ands, no buts, no doubts,” Baker said at a recent press conference, “and I certainly think for the most part if you can’t distance inside or outside, you’re going to be expected to wear a face covering or a mask.”
Businesses are allowed to deny entry of any person who refuses to wear a mask and does not have a valid medical reason not to, the order says.
“The Department of Public Health, local boards of health and authorized agents…are authorized to enforce this Order and if necessary may do so with the assistance of State or municipal police,” according to the order, and while there is no standard fee implemented across the board, Baker is enabling municipalities to charge up to $300 per violation of the order or guidance from the Department of Public Health.
“One of the major issues associated with this particular virus,” Baker said, is that a “very significant portion of the people who contract this virus will never show symptoms at all. I can’t stress that one enough.”
He said this is why masks are especially important, as their “main purpose is to protect [others] from you as much as it is to protect you from [others].”
Reopening Advisory Board
Last week, the Baker-Polito administration announced the creation of a 17 person reopening advisory board that has been working over the past week and over the weekend on a phased plan to reopen the state
Reopening is “certainly something that I think is at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Baker said at a press conference on April 20. “The advisory board has hit the ground running,” he added, and has met with business organizations and leaders from municipalities across the Commonwealth. He said the goal for the board is to “hear from employers from across the Commonwealth,” and to “gather as much data as they possibly can to make sure that we can offer up specific guidance.”
So far, the board has met virtually with stakeholders from “23 different industry associations and community coalitions,” Baker said, which represent more than 100,000 businesses and over 1.4 million employees in retail, life sciences, restaurants, tourism, construction, recreation, and more.
He said that the “best way to handle the reopening” is to “do it in a way consistent with data and recommendations” that come from other countries and different levels of government.
“This work is obviously going to be critical to make sure a smart, phased reopening will take place in Massachusetts,” Baker said on April 30.
He said in the coming weeks, more “concrete” plans will be available about what each phase will look like, and “where certain activities and industries fit into which phase.” Baker also said information for businesses, such as guidance for social distancing and cleaning, will also be made available.
Baker said he was “very grateful to the many people across industries that have had to close their doors and adjust their work styles” during this crisis. “I think everybody’s anxious to find a way to safely move forward.”
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito reminded residents on May 4 that when May 18 comes, it “doesn’t mean the economy across the Commonwealth will just open,” she said. Governor Baker has reiterated several times throughout the past couple weeks that they must rely on testing and hospital data to make the safest decision for what can open when.
Baker said that while the goal for the process is to start reopening some businesses “in a limited fashion” on May 18, the phasing process cannot begin “until we see sustained downward trends” in positive test rates, hospitalization rates, and fatality rates.
“When the public health date indicates that COVID-19 is on that sustained downward trend that’s been discussed by so many previously, we’ll be able to resume more and more activities going forward,” Baker said.
Contact Tracing Update
On April 30, Baker said that about 1000 people are working on the contact tracing collaborative, and so far, the average number of contacts for infected people is two.
He said that this “means that the work that all of you and we have done here in Massachusetts to stay at home, separate, and socially distance has made a big difference.”
He said the conversations that contact tracing callers have had with people has heavily leaned towards providing people with guidance and support and answering their questions and concerns around the virus and isolation practices.
Baker said that calls from an 833 or 857 area code or a Caller ID of MA COVID TEAM should be answered, as they are important for providing vital information to stop the spread of the virus.
Testing, Hospitalization Rate Update
As of May 5, there were 70,271 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, and 4,212 people had died.
Baker said on May 4 that May 3 was the “single highest” number of tests conducted in a single day in the Commonwealth, and it’s “good to see the total test numbers continue to increase.”
He said that as of May 3, 3,617 patients were hospitalized due to COVID-19, which is five percent of the total cases in the state.
“COVID hospitalizations have actually been decreasing in the past several days, with very few spikes in new admissions,” he said.
He added the number of patients in the ICU has dropped as well.
On May 6, Baker said that “over the past week or so, the percentage of positive cases has consistently been lower” than the past month. “We are encouraged by this data, but it’s important to remember that test results alone” do not show the complete impact of the virus on communities.
He said that while there are “obviously still thousands of people” who are sick, “the numbers have started to trend in the right direction” and different parts of the state are in different stages.
He added that the state has had “tremendous success” with the Telehealth program, and people should continue using it to communicate with health care providers, but if people are experiencing a medical emergency, they should call 911 or go to the emergency room, as hospitals have plenty of room and are prepared to care for non-COVID related conditions.
Baker said that he will “continue to ramp up testing for months to come,” and will continue to invest in the contact tracing program. He also said that it’s “important to remember that as long as there is no vaccine,” the state will have to continue discussions about how to operate the state in the most safe way.
“The threat of future transmission and illness will be with us for a very long time and we can’t forget that,” Baker said.