Gov. Charlie Baker signed an order Friday requiring Massachusetts residents to wear masks in public.
The order takes effect on May 6 and requires residents to use a face covering in public places when they cannot socially distance. This applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations opened to the public, including grocery and retail stores and public transportation.
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The governor's executive order does not apply to children under the age of 2 or anyone who is unable to wear a mask due to medical conditions or other Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued exemptions. Baker said he has instructed state health officials to issue additional guidance on children between the ages of 2 and 5.
"I think we all believe that as part of the strategy around some sort of reopening, people are going to need a mask or a face covering if they're going to be close to people. You can't always stay six feet away," the governor said. "If everybody's wearing a mask, it will dramatically reduce the opportunity and possibility of spread."
"This is going to be a way of life," he added. "No ifs, no ands, no buts, no doubts."
Baker discouraged residents from using medical grade masks, saying those should be reserved for medical personnel, first responders and others on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said the state continues to see some encouraging signs, with only 6% of coronavirus cases requiring hospitalization as of Thursday. That's the third day in a row that the state has seen a slight decrease.
"While there are still hundreds in need, this number has not gone up," he said. "Overall, this is a very good sign."
Massachusetts health officials reported 157 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the the total number of deaths in the state since the pandemic began to 3,562. The state also reported 1,940 new cases, for a total of more than 62,000.
Earlier this week, Baker detailed the steps that are being taken to reopen the Massachusetts economy.
He said the newly-established Reopening Advisory Board "has hit the ground running" and begun meeting with various employers, business organizations and municipalities to talk about the issues they are facing and how they see the reopening working for them.
The advisory board is charged with returning to Baker with a set of recommendations no later than May 18, the day the non-essential business closures are set to expire.
Four weeks after officials announced a new statewide effort to trace the close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19, the governor said this week that the tracing team has contacted about 5,000 individuals. He said about 1,000 people are now working as part of the contact tracing program, a collaboration with Partners in Health.
Baker said tracing is a key element of efforts to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious disease. When the effort was launched, he said, it was projected that each person who has COVID-19 would have about 10 close contacts. The average number of contacts has turned out to only be two, which he said means efforts to stay home and socially distance have been working.
He urged people to answer the phone if they receive a call from the tracing collaborative -- they come from a number with an 833 or 857 area code, he said, and the caller ID will say "MA COVID Team" -- and provide the relevant information.