Gov. Baker Explains New Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People, Schools

Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders visited the Boston Youth BBQ Vax and Basketball Bash in Roxbury on Friday

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker spoke on Friday as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise and residents received new mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.

Also Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education strongly recommended students in sixth grade and below wear masks indoors when classes begin in the fall.

"We will continue to double down to protect those who are most at risk here in Massachusetts, and today's guidance is another way we can work together to stay healthy and safe," Baker said at a community event to encourage youth vaccinations.

Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders visited the Boston Youth BBQ Vax and Basketball Bash in Roxbury, where Baker took questions.

Asked why the rules apply statewide, when only a handful of counties fall under the CDC's new recommendation that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID transmission rates, Baker noted the complexity of the metrics that determine high COVID transmission rates, and that people often travel between counties.

"How is anyone able supposed to keep track?" he said.

Massachusetts has four counties, down from five on Tuesday, where federal health officials are recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings.

He said earlier this week he was "considering" a mask mandate in schools — which the CDC recommended Tuesday and which scores of medical experts and professionals requested later that day — but ruled out immediately "instituting any travel restrictions," when asked about the COVID cluster in Provincetown that's now grown to nearly 900 people, and which has prompted a mask mandate in the Cape Cod tourist destination.

Gov. Charlie Baker was asked if he's planning to bring back mask guidance in Massachusetts in light of new recommendations for fully vaccinated people from the CDC.

Baker noted that the CDC makes recommendations for the country at large, while Massachusetts is in one of the best positions of any state in the nation.

"The higher your vaccinated population is, the less likely you are to see significant increases in your hospitalization rates when you have increases in cases, and that's certainly true here in Massachusetts as well," Baker said.

In Massachusetts, Barnstable County and Nantucket have high transmission under the CDC's new COVID guidelines, while Bristol and Suffolk counties are considered areas of substantial transmission.

Baker also emphasized that, regardless of breakthrough cases, vaccination remains the best protection for people to keep themselves and their loved ones safe: "You're far less likely to test positive from COVID, to get very sick from COVID, to die from COVID if you're vaccinated."

With the delta variant spreading and rates of positive coronavirus cases increasing, the CDC is now recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors in high-transmission areas.

Massachusetts health officials reported another 742 confirmed coronavirus cases -- the most in a single day since early May -- and eight new deaths on Thursday.

The report pushed the state's confirmed COVID-19 caseload to 671,644 since the start of the pandemic and its death toll to 17,711. The last time Massachusetts reported more than 742 cases in one day was 795, on May 8.

The state's COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, are far lower than they were several months ago, though some have been rising in recent weeks. While breakthrough cases are being reported, officials say most new cases, and especially serious infections, are in the unvaccinated.

Massachusetts' seven-day average of positive tests rose to 1.92% on Thursday. It was once above 30%, but had dropped under 0.5% until the delta variant began surging in the state.

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