With more people getting vaccinated and a notable downward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Massachusetts, the long-standing mask order from the Commonwealth has been rescinded and a revised policy has been put in place, effective May 29th, 2021. Now, those who are fully vaccinated neither need to wear masks nor socially distance, both indoors and outdoors. However, people who have not been vaccinated are advised to continue following the previous policy: socially distancing and wearing masks. In certain situations, such as in taxis, the MBTA, and healthcare facilities, masks or other forms of facial covering are still required for everyone, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not. This mask policy, issued by the Department of Public Health, is consistent with the latest guidance of the CDC.
Furthermore, Governor Charlie Baker has taken even more steps toward reopening. There is now no limit on the number of people who can meet in both indoor and outdoor spaces. This means that businesses can run at full capacity, and any closed venues can now reopen. However, private businesses are free to establish their own mask, social distancing, or capacity policies, and Baker himself encouraged people to respect the rules of individual establishments.
Many have already taken full advantage of the new, updated guidelines. For the past few days, large, popular social settings in the state, such as the Encore Boston Harbor casino, have been bustling with people who are ready to get back into a pre-pandemic lifestyle. Encore plans on continuing this trend. Seth Stratton, the Vice President and general counsel of MGM Springfield, told commissioners, “we’re looking for an ability to return, at our discretion and as business dictates, to a pre-COVID environment. We are looking for flexibility to phase out COVID-related restrictions as we deem fit consistent with state and federal guidance, but we are not looking to eliminate every COVID-related mitigation strategy as of the 29th.” Stratton went on to say, “That’ll be a gradual process and we will of course keep the commission apprised of how that’s going.”
However, this does not mean COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat. The pandemic is still present, and Massachusetts residents are still required to follow the updated guidelines. Until cases and deaths drop significantly for an extended period of time, the CDC advises that it is important to continue practicing the necessary safety procedures; most importantly, it urges vaccination. Cambridge has multiple clinics that offer COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccines are also available in several neighboring towns. These vaccines are free and effective, and because there are three—Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson—that have been approved and recommended by the CDC, people are encouraged to receive whichever brand is first available to them.
Some worry that Massachusetts, along with other states, has been lifting its COVID-19 restrictions too quickly. According to Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine associate professor of public health, “Nobody really knows if there’s going to be a variant in the fall or if we’re going to have to have boosters. There are so many wild cards in this pandemic.”
Massachusetts’ new mask policies have also undoubtedly affected Cambridge and CRLS. Now, students are no longer required to wear their masks outside the school. The Register Forum interviewed the CRLS community for thoughts on the latest mask policies. Natalie Mazzei ’23 stated, “I am trying to be more open with taking my mask off outside because I am now fully vaccinated. However, it often feels really weird to take off my mask in public because I am so used to keeping it on. I think they are effective if you are vaccinated, and even if I’m not in Cambridge, there is enough herd immunity that it is safe.”
Clearly, the latest mask and social distancing policies have implemented major changes across the state and in people’s daily lives. As Massachusetts continues to loosen restrictions and return to normalcy, the commonwealth will continue to face the challenge of incorporating vaccination status into COVID policy. At the moment, the CDC and other health officials recommend frequently checking for updates to safety guidelines and following the necessary steps to keep communities safe.