As states nationwide consider or introduce mandatory mask orders to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Governor Charlie Baker responded to a question Thursday on the status of the face covering rule currently in place in Massachusetts.
“The order is in place for masks whenever you’re in public because we believe people wearing masks is the best and most appropriate way we can all work together to stop the spread,” Baker said during his afternoon press conference. “That order is going to remain in place until we don’t have an emergency.”
Baker announced in early May that he had issued a statewide order mandating everyone in Massachusetts wear a face covering when they are in public and cannot be at least 6 feet away from others. Those who do not comply may face a fine of up to $300 (although some police departments said they prefer to distribute masks instead of fines).
Many states have begun either mulling or imposing similar rules in recent days and weeks, as COVID-19 numbers have risen, especially in the South and West. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now require masks.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott two weeks ago ordered most of the state’s 30 million residents to wear masks, and Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock is now requiring masks at indoor public spaces and larger outdoor gatherings in counties where four or more people are known to have COVID-19.
On the other hand, Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine made an emotional appeal to residents Wednesday to make sacrifices to protect their neighbors, but stopped short of mandating masks. And Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who has resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself, has become the first US governor to test positive for COVID-19.
In Georgia, some mayors — including Atlanta’s — said they want their requirements for people to wear masks in public to remain in place, even after Republican Governor Brian Kemp explicitly forbade cities and counties from mandating face coverings.
Kemp’s stance — not only shying away from a statewide order but trying to bar local governments from instituting their own — leaves him standing virtually alone. In the South, Republican governors in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida have resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate but allow local jurisdictions to implement them. Republican governors in Alabama and Texas and Democrats in Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina have issued statewide mask requirements.
Meanwhile, a CDC report published Tuesday underscored how effective face coverings could be in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The report noted that two hair stylists in Missouri who were infected may have spared nearly 140 clients from the illness simply by vigilant mask wearing.
“This really shows the power of face coverings, especially in indoor settings,” Nadia Abuelezam, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston College, told The New York Times.
A separate study led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital noted that the infection rate among employees at Mass General Brigham hospitals dropped significantly once all workers were required to wear masks, suggesting face coverings work in preventing the spread of the deadly contagion. That study was published online Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA.
“If people want to engage in a discussion about masks as they relate to COVID, my view is masks are a fundamental part of how we contain and fight the virus,” Baker said Thursday. “And we believe the proposal we put in place, which gives locals the ability to also enforce this order with a variety of means of mechanisms that are available to them, has worked enormously effectively.
“If you look at Massachusetts relative to many other states in the country, our compliance with that masks order is very high,” he continued. “And again I give the people of the Commonwealth credit for recognizing and understanding that this is not only an important way to protect themselves, but it’s also an important way to protect others, given the amount of asymptomatic spread that exists with COVID generally.”
Earlier in his press conference, Baker emphasized the importance of continuing to wear face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s very clear from the research and data that face coverings are the most important and significant way to stop the spread,” he said. “While there’s been a lot of back and forth ... the one thing we all know for sure is it spreads from one person to another, to another, and then to another.”
Travis Andersen and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.