Millions of Massachusetts residents will be required to cover their faces when they shop for groceries, take public transportation, or even go for a jog if they can’t distance themselves from others, under a statewide order Governor Charlie Baker issued Friday.
The mandate takes effect Wednesday, and adds to the raft of directives the Republican governor has issued, including shuttering thousands of businesses through May 18, as part of his bid to slow the still-proliferating COVID-19 disease.
"We view this as common sense,” Baker said at a State House news conference, adding that face coverings “should be” the norm, especially as the state considers easing restrictions on daily life in the coming weeks.
“This is going to be basically a way of life," Baker said. "No ifs, no ands, no buts, no doubts. If you can’t [socially distance] inside or outside, you’re going to be expected to wear a face covering or a mask.”
Hours after Baker’s announcement, state health officials reported 154 more people had died from the coronavirus outbreak, pushing the state’s death toll to 3,716. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases also climbed, by 2,106 to 64,311 total, as did the number of tests, with 13,989 newly reported. As of Friday, there had been 289,636 tests conducted statewide.
In another COVID development, US regulators on Friday allowed emergency use of Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir, an experimental drug, after preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed it shortened recovery time by about four days on average for hospitalized patients.
Gilead has said it would donate its currently available stock of the drug and is ramping up production to make more.
In Massachusetts, Baker’s order means people will have to cover their nose and mouth if they’re unable to keep a 6-foot distance from others in any “place open to the public.” The requirement for a face covering — which can range from a bandanna or T-shirt to a homemade, disposable, or professionally made mask — will not apply to children 2 years old and younger or those with medical issues that would prevent them from wearing a mask.
Baker urged people not to buy “medical-grade masks,” such as N95 respirators, to avoid depleting supplies for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic.
Violators may face a fine up to $300 under the order, but enforcement will largely be left to local officials, who until Baker’s mandate had issued a patchwork of rules for face coverings throughout the state, some of which carried the potential for far heftier penalties.
Baker’s aides said they believe it’s unlikely anyone will be fined and “very unlikely” a fine would exceed $300. But towns and cities are allowed to impose further penalties if they wish, according to Baker’s office.
The order also allows businesses to deny service to those who refuse to wear a mask. That, more than any potential fine, will be the most effective way to enforce it, said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents the state’s 351 cities and towns.
“This is pretty indicative of what communities are looking for from the administration and this reopening process,” Beckwith said of the mask order. “There are people who shop across borders, who go to grocery stores in nearby towns, who go to parks. It’s really hard for one community to do the kind of statewide or regional education to make sure there’s a high level of awareness.”
Until now, the MBTA had been encouraging but not requiring masks. The agency did not immediately respond to questions about how the mask order will be enforced on trains and buses, but a spokesman said it “expects all customers and employees to comply with the governor’s directive.”
A Globe review found nearly 60 towns and cities across the state had issued some type of order requiring the public to wear masks as of Thursday, the majority of which mandated that people don them when inside a grocery store, pharmacy, or other essential business.
Some had gone further, including Brookline, Somerville, and Cambridge, which require that people wear them also in outdoor public spaces. Arlington and Holliston also applied mask requirements to joggers and cyclists.
Still others have warned of hefty fines that can reach as high as $1,000, including in Marblehead, Winthrop, and Peabody, while in Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh has repeatedly urged, but not required, people to wear one, including while running or biking outside.
Earlier Friday, Walsh expressed frustration about hearing reports of people going into stores without masks, particularly younger people.
“You’re not helping yourself, and you’re not helping the people that are delivering services to you,” Walsh said. “If you’re a millennial and you don’t want to wear a mask because it doesn’t look cool, I really don’t care about that.”
Before Friday, Baker had recommended people wear masks but had not specifically required it. His counterparts in Maine and Connecticut have issued orders mandating people wear masks in public places, while governors in Vermont and Rhode Island have required them for workers. New Hampshire has not issued any mask requirements.
But with the state launching formal discussions about how to reopen the local economy and begin lifting restrictions, the move to require masks is aimed at further stemming transmission from asymptomatic carriers as people begin to venture beyond their homes.
As the governor’s briefing got underway Friday, a group of about 40 protesters gathered near the steps of the State House — some toting American flags or “Trump 2020” banners — to call for the reopening of the state.
Members of the group, only a few of whom wore face masks, chanted “Reopen Mass now!” Some carried signs with messages along the same lines: “I respect your right to quarantine. You should respect my right not to,” read one. “This is tyranny,” read another.
Baker reiterated that he did not want to relax restrictions on the state’s residents until there were some hopeful signs that the state is reaching the other side of the plateau of cases.
“When we reopen, we want to do it based on the right data at the right time with the right mechanisms in place to monitor this, so we only have to do this once," Baker said. "Because the calamity and economic hardship associated with it is absolutely not something any of us wants to have to put up with again.”
A day before Baker’s order, the Globe dispatched more than 20 reporters and editors to towns and cities across eastern and central Massachusetts and found a mix of mask etiquette.
On a stretch of Harvard Street in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, 47 people passed by in 20 minutes, 10 of whom weren’t wearing masks. And amid a steady noon-hour rain, there were as many bare-faced pedestrians as those with masks in the heart of the village in Manchester by the Sea, where a mask order wasn’t in place.
And over the course of a half-hour at Plymouth Rock, it was evenly divided among passersby: 17 wore masks, and 17 did not.
One masked walker, a 52-year-old Plymouth woman who declined to give her name, said her mask doesn’t make her feel a whole lot safer.
“I don’t understand the virus, because you don’t get straight answers from the government,” she said. “The information changes every day, so it’s confusing.”
But in Milford, where officials had mandated masks in businesses, there was near uniform compliance at a Stop & Shop: Of 68 people observed, 65 had masks and one had a bandanna. The same went in Bellingham, where a mask order went into effect this week: Around a Market Basket on Route 126, no less than 50 people wore masks, compared to three who didn’t have anything on their face.
Back in Boston, mask displays were spotty. Downtown on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, 46 people passed by wearing masks, while 32 people went without one. At different times near Boston Common, as many people donned one as those who didn’t.
“Where’s your mask? What’s wrong with you?” one man shouted to a mask-less man at the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Joy streets.
He wasn’t totally mask-less, the other man claimed. “I have two in my pocket."
Steve Annear, Dugan Arnett, Peter Bailey-Wells, Marcia Dick, Stephanie Ebbert, Mark Feeney, Felicia Gans, Teresa Hanafin, Katie Johnston, Hayley Kaufman, Kay Lazar, Tim Logan, Zoë Madonna, Danny McDonald, Joshua Miller, Stacey Myers, Tommy Piatchek, Christina Prignano, Jenna Russell, Beth Teitell, Adam Vaccaro and Eileen Woods of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Matt Berg, Caroline Enos, Jeremy Fox, and Anissa Gardizy contributed to this report.
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