It’s now mandatory to wear a mask outside in Massachusetts, but you probably won't be punished if you leave home without one.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators asked health directors around the state how they’re handling an updated mask order that went into effect Nov. 6. It requires people to wear masks outside at all times — even when standing more than six feet away from others.
Those who break the rule risk a $300 civil fine. But it falls on boards of health in each city and town to enforce the mask mandate. And while masks are now a staple of life during the pandemic, many local officials say they still prefer not to punish scofflaws.
Of nearly 100 communities that responded to an inquiry Monday from the NBC10 Boston Investigators, only three said they’ve handed out citations to people for failing to wear masks in public since Nov. 6. Abington and Manchester issued one citation each, and Nantucket issued five last week. Details regarding the citations weren’t immediately available.
More than 90 other communities said they haven’t cited private individuals for failing to comply with the mask mandate. Many said they’re opting to educate people about COVID-19 rather than punish them.
"Honestly, we found that a lot of people are wearing the masks, which is a good thing," Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque told NBC10 Tuesday. "The only area that we find we're having issues is when we may have to go to parties at people's homes and things like that, and that's when we can get into some situations where we're referring them to the Board of Health for follow-up and potential fines being levied."
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department said he was unaware of whether any citations for violating the mask order have been issued, though he thought it was unlikely. He said officers have been trying to educate people about the disease instead.
Similarly, a spokesman for the city of Worcester said no citations have been issued for going without a mask in public, though businesses are still subject to COVID-19 safety inspections and enforcement action by the city.
Hopkinton was one of the first towns to adopt a local mask regulation. With the exception of two political rallies, compliance with mask orders has been good, according to Health Director Shaun McAuliffe.
Brookline has cited a few businesses, but no individuals, an official there said. Similarly, all citations in Quincy have been to workplaces regarding their employees, according to a representative of the health department.
Natick issued seven warnings, but no fines to date. Holliston Health Director Scott Moles said his department also issued a couple of verbal warnings.
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Blandford's Board of Health is offering "gentle reminders" to wear a mask, according to board member Jennifer Girard. "We are a small town and everyone seems to understand the importance of keeping each other as well as their families safe," she wrote in an email.
Milton took a similar approach, according to Health Director Caroline A. Kinsella.
"The Milton [Board of Health] believes in educating the community, not in punitive fines, during these already challenging times we are facing," she wrote.
Amanda Stone, public health nurse in Mattapoisett, said people are largely complying by state guidelines and public health mandates.
"We're really hoping that people understand that it's a broader concept than just thinking about themselves, the risk reduction strategies that are in place," she said.