Gov. Charlie Baker made it official early Friday afternoon: the great majority of the state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions that have shaped life in Massachusetts since last March will no longer be in effect starting Saturday.
The governor said the progress of vaccinations here -- 78% of adults have gotten at least one dose and more than 3.5 million people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus -- made it possible to repeal government restrictions and allow businesses to start getting back to normal operations.
"Unless something very odd happens, I would say that it is pretty much over," Baker said Friday from the State House Library. "I would put an asterisk on anything that says it's over, but I do believe that it is certainly on the run in a big way and given the data as it currently exists right now, Massachusetts is in a place where we can lift these restrictions and do so with a high degree of confidence that people have done the things we needed to do to beat this thing down."
As of Saturday in Massachusetts, all industries will be permitted to open to 100% capacity, indoor and outdoor gathering limits will be rescinded and, with the exception of face-covering requirements for certain settings, all state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted.
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The state of emergency that's been in place since March 10, 2020, will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. on June 15 under an order Baker signed Friday. People who have not been vaccinated will be advised, but not ordered, to continue wearing face masks and to continue distancing in most settings, but the state's new advisory will recommend that vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a face-covering or social distance indoors or outdoors except for in certain situations.
With an improved public health situation, the strategy to stop the spread of COVID now shifts from more than a year of mandating how businesses can and should operate to an emphasis on personal risk assessment and choice. Businesses may opt to keep some restrictions in place to protect their employees and customers, and each individual can make decisions based on their own comfort level and virus conditions in their community.
Since Baker first laid out a roadmap to the end of COVID-19 restrictions on April 27, initially suggesting an end date of Aug. 1, the average number of daily new cases has dropped 82.5% from nearly 1,200 new cases a day to an average of 208 new cases a day. The average number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is down 58% from more than 650 patients to an average of 274 now. Deaths are down more than 40% from more than 10 a day to about six a day, a low since the pandemic began. The state's average positive test rate was 1.72% then and now stands at 0.80%. And since the governor announced his accelerated reopening timeline on May 17, new cases are down 57%, hospitalizations are down 29%, deaths are down 35% and the positive test rate has shed about three-tenths of a percent.
Massachusetts is also launching a new campaign to encourage diners to start eating out in their favorite restaurants.
Restaurants are among those the businesses hardest hit during the pandemic and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Friday that the Baker administration wants to send the message that restaurants are open and if individuals are vaccinated they should go out and dine to help those eateries bounce back.
For some Red Sox fans, the last game with COVID restrictions in place was exactly why they came to the ballpark Friday night.
"I purposely bought tickets tonight before the crowds come back," said Lisa Davis of Malden.
Not everyone is ready to be among a lot of people.
"This is my third game this season," said Jane Wilson. "I thought I was going to dislike it, but I love it, I love having the seats to myself."
But come Saturday, Fenway Park goes from 25% capacity to 100%.
"I think it's going to be wild," said Fran Blandini of Saugus.
The huge crowds that are expected for the rest of the season are exactly what restaurants around the ballpark need.
"Tomorrow's a huge deal," said Jeff Wiedmayer, general manager of Bleacher Bar. "I'm expecting a huge, huge turnout tomorrow, about equivalent to a normal opening day."
At Game On, they've been preparing for Saturday since the governor announced the big date.
They're hoping the enthusiasm is bigger than ever.
"I think it's going to be better," said Game On General Manager Joe Hicks. "People are excited, they haven't gone out of their house in a really long time, it's going to be a big reunion in a sense."
Inside the park, besides full capacity, face coverings and health screenings for fans will no longer be required.
"I'm glad that they're going to go back to non-COVID restrictions so that everybody can have a good time," said Red Sox fan Elissa Carr.