Massachusetts will be fully reopened just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. announced this week.
Masks will no longer be required, gathering limits will no longer be in place and all businesses will be able to open at full capacity with no pandemic restrictions in place.
By the middle of June, the State of Emergency will be lifted.
In light of this, several stores have announced that customers will not be required to mask up in their buildings, including Stop & Shop.
While the restrictions are being completely lifted by Saturday, May 29, local officials ask that residents consider keeping a mask handy in the event that some businesses continue to require them. State Senator Julian A. Cyr (D-Truro) and Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Wendy K. Northcross said many businesses, residents and tourists will still be navigating the pandemic throughout the summer.
The restrictions are being lifted in Massachusetts in large part because of the high vaccination rate in the state. Now that children as young as 12 are eligible, the state is on track to reach its goal of 4.1 million vaccinated residents by the first week of June.
To help reach this young demographic, Barnstable County has been partnering with school districts to bring the vaccine directly to students instead of having them have to seek out appointments. Additionally, evening vaccine clinics are being planned so that people who want the vaccine will be able to get it without an impact to their work hours.
Gov. Baker announced that the state would be fully reopening with no pandemic-related restrictions on May 29.
His announcement comes in the wake of updated mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that vaccinated people can safely remove their masks in both indoor and outdoor situations. Vaccinated people are able to return to normal, pre-pandemic activities, the guidance states.
Massachusetts is aligning with that guidance.
Vaccinated or not, masks will still need to be worn in certain situations. This includes while using public or private transportation such as the subway and taxi cabs, in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, and in any business that is still choosing to ask customers to mask up.
Students and staff in K-12 schools will also still be required to wear masks indoors, although they can now take them off while outdoors at recess. Youth athletes are also able to go mask-free while playing outdoors.
No one is going to be required to wear a mask, but people who have not been vaccinated are cautioned to continue to wear one.
Relaxed Store Mask Policies
While some stores may still choose to ask customers to wear a face covering, many larger chains have announced that they will be relaxing their policies.
On Wednesday, May 19, a Stop & Shop spokesperson said customers shopping in Massachusetts stores would no longer need to wear a face covering once the state restrictions are lifted on May 29.
Though not required, the face coverings will still be encouraged.
Among other chain businesses that have made similar announcements are CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Target, Best Buy and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
All of these businesses have said that masks will still be required attire in states, counties and towns that still have facial covering mandates.
Cape Cod Summer
As the region gears up for a busy summer season, Sen. Cyr asked for people to pack two things: a mask and kindness.
“We have all worked too hard to make it through this pandemic not to hold fast to the civility, the kindness or the patience,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot about how the region does have a workforce shortage, so it is going to take a little bit longer to get that lobster roll or that ice cream cone.”
He also said the lifting of restrictions does not mean that Provincetown’s Commercial Street will instantly become Bourbon Street or that Main Street in Hyannis will become the Vegas Strip at 12:01 AM on May 29.
The senator said some stores, particularly the small retail stores across the Cape, may still want people to wear masks in their buildings. He asked that visitors to those stores respect those wishes and not to take out frustrations on the employees who are trying to ensure that people have a good time while staying safe.
Ms. Northcross said a lot of businesses are trying to determine what moving past the pandemic will mean for them.
“Please be kind, please be patient, because you might encounter a kind of patchwork,” she said of business masking policies. “Everyone’s doing the best they can to change and try to go back to something they knew pre-pandemic and service their guests and get business done.”
She acknowledged that it can be frustrating to have to mask up, especially with the science showing that the vaccines are very effective at preventing serious illness. The summer will likely be spent sorting out a lot of those protocols, she said.
Sen. Cyr said it will be important to meet people where they are, and at their comfort levels, in the coming months.
“Whatever activities you’re doing, there’s a transition there,” he said. “People are going to transition in different ways.”
Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien said the county is looking at ways to reach residents who have not yet been vaccinated.
Among those efforts are evening vaccine clinics and partnering with school districts to reach younger eligible people.
The county recently held a walk-in clinic at Cape Cod Community College that ran from 5 to 7 PM. The clinic was popular and ran out of the 150 doses organizers had allotted for it.
As a result, the county will be looking at holding more evening clinics, so that people can get vaccinated outside traditional working hours.
With children as young as 12 eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, the county has also been working with school districts to get the vaccine to this younger population.
Mr. O’Brien said the county has always worked well with the schools.
“We’ve felt it’s probably best to bring the Pfizer vaccine to the school, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said.