fb-pixel

Governor Baker announces tighter mask mandate, other COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Baker announces new restrictions
Gov. Baker announced new restrictions because of rising coronavirus numbers including a new stay-at-home advisory as well as gathering limitations. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

With coronavirus infections steadily rising, Governor Charlie Baker issued a raft of new restrictions Monday, ordering some businesses to close by 9:30 p.m., urging people to stay home at night, and clamping down on private gatherings just as the holiday season nears.

Baker also tightened the state’s face-covering mandate, requiring anyone over 5 years old to wear a mask in public regardless of their distance from others.

The changes, which go into effect Friday, were less stringent than some business owners had feared. But epidemiologists said the measures, while an important step toward communicating the pandemic’s severity, likely do not go far enough to turn back the state’s rising tide of infections.

Advertisement



Restaurants will have to halt table service at 9:30 p.m. each day, and facilities such as gyms, theaters, and casinos will have to close by the same time. Baker also said he’s restricting private indoor gatherings to 10 people.

The Department of Public Health is instituting a new stay-at-home advisory — though not a formal curfew — that urges the public to be at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for necessary activities, such as going to work, school, or the grocery store.

The new measures, some of which carry fines for those who disobey them, are an effort to encourage people to change their behavior with “targeted measures" without ordering a wholesale reversal in the state’s reopening plans, Baker said.

The state reported 725 newly confirmed cases Monday after nine straight days with more than 1,000 new infections, and the three-day average for COVID-related hospitalizations jumped by nearly 40 percent during October, increasing from 432 on Oct. 1 to 602 on Halloween, state data show.


The governor specifically pointed to house parties and informal get-togethers as potential spreading events, and argued that data suggest that neither restaurants nor schools have proven to be a source for COVID-19 clusters.

Advertisement



“Everybody’s concluded that closing schools last spring was probably a bad idea, OK?” Baker said, adding that his administration does not plan to order schools closed.

But he otherwise urged people to make sacrifices to avoid overwhelming the state’s hospitals with coronavirus cases, particularly in the holiday season. Baker said his administration plans to keep the restrictions in place for “at least a month” before deciding whether to impose other changes.

“If we don’t ramp up the fight . . . we will have a serious problem on our hands in the not-too-distant future,” he said at a State House news conference, later adding: “Part of this is about messaging. We want you to go home. We don’t think shutting down our economy is the right thing to do.”

Health experts expressed concern, however, that the new measures do not go far enough.

“I think these [measures] are fine, but they’re really not going to get us very far. I am overall disappointed that the governor’s not doing more,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “If we wait three weeks to see whether this has an impact . . . I’m worried we’ll be headed towards a lockdown that’s much more aggressive statewide, and the governor is missing a window of opportunity here.”

Jha and other experts said there is little evidence to show that curfew-like measures have a significant impact on disease transmission. Several French cities attempted a limited lockdown in mid-October amid a rise in cases there, Jha said, but just two weeks later cases were still rising, and the country was forced to enter a new round of stricter lockdowns.

Advertisement



“I think this will help a little bit with late-night gatherings for young adults and students. I’m not convinced that it is sufficient," said Dr. David Hamer, a Boston University epidemiologist and physician at Boston Medical Center.

Hamer said that restrictions on gathering sizes and times might even have come a few days too late, after many in the state already celebrated Halloween in groups. Some epidemiologists have been urging Baker for weeks to clamp down on large gatherings and to take other measures, as the number of cases have edged up.

Massachusetts’s new restrictions might not target the true causes of increased transmission, said Samuel Scarpino, a Northeastern University epidemiologist.

“I remain to be convinced that the rise in cases is coming from these indoor gatherings," said Scarpino. He also echoed a concern other experts have voiced, namely that the state’s contact tracing data is not comprehensive enough to identify what is driving COVID-19 transmission.


Scarpino said the governor’s announcement is nevertheless important to setting the tone for the state’s fight against rising COVID-19 cases.

Baker’s directive for businesses to close by 9:30 p.m. includes fitness centers, arcades, and indoor and outdoor theatres. Restaurants, too, must close in-person service, though they will be allowed to offer takeout and delivery. Any violators who defy the order could face fines of up to $500.

Advertisement



The new order does include a series of exemptions, including allowing employees to conduct cleaning or stocking businesses overnight, and it does not pertain to construction, manufacturing, or lab work, an administration official said. Supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, and retail stores will also be allowed to stay open after 9:30 p.m.

Liquor stores and other retail establishments that sell alcohol must cease alcohol sales at 9:30 p.m., but they may continue to sell other products.


“The simple truth is this: Too many of us have become complacent in our daily lives," Baker said. "We’re doing much better than many other states and many other countries, but here, too, we’ve let down our guard and we have work to do.”

Private gatherings will also be severely curtailed, with limits on 10 people in indoor settings (reduced from 25 currently) and 25 people outside (reduced from 50). All gatherings need to end by 9:30 p.m.

The Baker administration said the 25-person limits it had previously put on indoor public spaces or event venues, such as wedding venues, would not change, nor would the new rules apply to political demonstrations or “religious activities.”

The order, issued on the eve of Election Day, also doesn’t apply to polling places.

The new order also requires that anyone organizing a gathering must report any known positive COVID-19 cases to the local health department. And anyone who violates it could face fines of up to $500 “for each person above the limit at a particular gathering," according to the Baker administration.

Advertisement



Baker first instituted a mask order in May, requiring millions of Massachusetts residents to cover their faces when they shop for groceries, take public transportation, or go into public places if they couldn’t keep six feet of distance between themselves and others.

But his new order removed the distance caveat, essentially mandating that people wear masks whenever in public if they are over the age of 5. Children who are between 2 and 5 years old are still encouraged to wear them.

“We’re basically saying if you go out in public, wear a mask, Baker said.

The changes drew blowback from some Democrats. US Representative Ayanna Pressley criticized Baker for not going far enough in his directives, sarcastically asking the governor in a tweet: “You do know COVID-19 spreads during the day too, right?”

Baker has now issued 55 executive orders since announcing a state of emergency in early March, acting under a Cold War-era law to make a series of changes without legislative approval in the face of the pandemic. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court is weighing a legal challenge to that authority brought by a group of salons, restaurants, and religious organizations.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Dasia Moore can be reached at dasia.moore@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore.