A city order that required people to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces in Boston, including restaurants, shops, museums and entertainment venues, was lifted Saturday.
City public health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, in conjunction with the city health board, made the decision earlier this week citing a steep decline in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations as well as high vaccination rates.
"All of our key metrics are moving in the right direction,'' Ojikutu said at the meeting.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said last Tuesday that she's grateful the city is ready to take this step in its recovery thanks to the hard work and commitment of residents keeping the city safe over many, many months.
In Boston's Seaport district, most cafes and shops had taken down signs requiring mask mandates by late Saturday morning.
Standing in line outside a bakery, Matthew Mayer, 23, said he felt relief and that the change was overdue.
"It feels great,'' he said. "It feels like I am freed.''
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
But a few feet ahead in the line, several students were still wearing their masks and said they would continue to do so indoors.
"I am a medical student so for me its generally keeping myself safe from any pathogen. It doesn't have to be COVID,'' said Drea Gonzalez, 26, a public health student at the University of Pennsylvania.
A few blocks down at a CVS Pharmacy, employees were wearing masks as required, as were most customers. But those who didn't have masks on said they felt the policy change made sense.
"Saturday couldn't have come quick enough really,'' said Bob White, a 76-year-old lobbyist who lives in Dorchester. "We've had a mask on for a couple of years. I think everything being in order, it's good for the public to be behind us. When we got here yesterday, we had masks on going to dinner last night and when we got up this morning, we were going to burn our masks. But we didn't.''
“We’re excited! We had a really good brunch today. We’re expecting a rest good dinner rush and we’re stoked,” said Markus Rippierger, president of the Hampshire House Corporation.
There was a lot of cheering going on at Cheers in Boston on Saturday night.
“As I say, everybody ought to have a pub in their basement. I happen to live in this building and it’s very nice to go downstairs and see all those people having a good time,” said one man, whose name everyone seemed to know.
It's Thomas Kershaw, the owner of the famed bar.
“We’re in the hospitality business. We’re supposed to be making people happy. Enjoying themselves. And you can’t do that with a mask on,” Kershaw said.
The masking requirement also has been lifted at many city buildings, including for city workers, except those where vulnerable populations are served. The city still recommends masking for people at high risk of becoming sick.
"While masks are no longer mandated in certain indoor settings, the Boston Public Health Commission recommends masking in these settings if you are at high risk for severe illness or if you will be around individuals who are,'' the board said.
Also, individual businesses and other venues can continue to require masks for their customers. The lifting of the mask mandate comes about two weeks after the city ended its proof-of-vaccination requirement for restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and some other businesses.
Masks are still required on public transportation, in health care and congregate living facilities, and in the city's public schools. The health board has scheduled a meeting March 9 to discuss school masking policy. The latest indoor masking policy took effect last August.
Here's a quick guide to where masks will and won't be required as of Saturday:
No masks required
- Bars and restaurants
- Entertainment venues
- Public transportation
- Health care and congregate care settings
- Boston Public Schools
Health professionals like Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital say it's important for people to remain vigilant, even as many celebrate the mask mandate being dropped.
“We certainly need to stay alert and maintain our vigilance," the Boston doctor said. "Especially continuing to monitor the amount of virus in sewage and if we start seeing upticks, to be prepared that we may need to go back to wearing masks.”
Restauranteurs are optimistic diners will return.
“Hopefully they’ll all be comfortable to come back and enjoy the restaurants like they've enjoyed many years before,” Rippierger said.
Many are coming back and willing to adapt for a good time.
“It’s all about public health. If we have to put the masks back on we’ll put it back on. But it’s nice not to wear it. Who wants to wear one?” said one man whose wife also noted she's happy to be mask free.
Massachusetts reported 900 new COVID-19 cases on Friday in its last report of the week, along with 23 more deaths. The seven-day positivity rate was 1.82 percent. In Boston, 2,792 new cases have been reported over the last 14 days and the seven-day positivity rate was at 1.84 percent.
Boston follows New York, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities that are relaxing pandemic restrictions as officials push for more normalcy after two grueling years of the pandemic.
The Associated Press and State House News Service contributed to this report.