Coronavirus

Mass. Could Announce Changes to Mask Mandate, COVID Restrictions Soon

Baker said Thursday changes could be announced in the coming weeks

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With the number of vaccinated people increasing and summer approaching, many in Massachusetts are wondering if and when the state will make changes to its mask mandate or further relax COVID-19 business restrictions.

Though neighboring states like New Hampshire, Connecticut and now Rhode Island have announced they are relaxing mask mandates and business restrictions, Gov. Charlie Baker said this week that he's not ready to make a similar announcement regarding Massachusetts -- but that could soon change.

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Here's what we know about when the Baker administration could announce changes.

Changes announced this month?

The last time the rules changes in Massachusetts was a month ago when large venues like Fenway Park were permitted to open at 12% capacity, and most businesses are still restricted to 50% capacity and no more than 500 people.

While many are getting vaccinated and cases are going down in the state, the governor stressed that everyone needs to remain vigilant.

"We've been following the public health data and the COVID data," he said. "We continue to talk to our medical advisory board and track the CDC guidance."

"We've generally been making announcements around issues of COVID every two or three weeks," Baker said. "I expect we'll have some stuff to say before the end of April. For now, people need to continue to follow the rules and guidance."

Where do other states stand?

New Hampshire announced last week that it was lifting its mask mandate and rolling back all other pandemic-related measures on May 7. And Connecticut announced Monday that it will lift all outdoor restrictions on May 1 and all other business restrictions will be phased out starting May 19.

On Thursday, Rhode Island said it will also be easing its outdoor mask mandate and other restrictions on May 7.

The mask mandate in New Hampshire ends at midnight Saturday morning, but many places will still require face coverings.

Federal mask guidance changing?

With more than 84 million adults in the United States fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are growing questions about whether wearing masks outdoors is still needed, NBC News reports.

On Thursday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told "TODAY" the agency is considering revising its mask guidance.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky addresses COVID-19 and vaccine distribution at the Hynes Convention Center on Tuesday.

“We’ll be looking at the outdoor masking question, but also in the context of the fact that we still have people who are dying of COVID-19,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Stay vigilant, Baker warns

Baker cautioned Thursday that the battle with COVID is far from over.

"I think it's really important for people to understand that we are not done with COVID," he said. "We will probably not be completely done with COVID for quite a while. We'll probably be talking about booster shots at some point when we all get past the point where we're vaccinated for the first time.'

"I think it's important that we move at a pace to make sure the reopening process we pursue is consistent with the guidance and recommendations we're getting from the experts and it doesn't create a bounce in the wrong direction," Baker noted. "So the answer is you're going to have to wait and see."

Elected officials and health experts have been racing to get shots in arms while more infectious variants of COVID-19 spread. Through Wednesday, Massachusetts had fully vaccinated about 2.13 million people, more than 38% of the state's adult population.

More than 203,000 of those have received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the state ordered providers to stop administering on April 13 to comply with a federally recommended pause.

Registration for the coronavirus vaccine opened up to anyone 16 or older in Massachusetts Monday.

Nearly 100,000 vaccine doses were reported to the state Tuesday as administered, the Department of Public Health reported Wednesday. The agency said 5,303,005 total COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Massachusetts as of the end of Tuesday, an increase of 93,385 doses from the previous day's report. The number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 climbed to 2,136,135, up by about 40,000 people.

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