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Residents excited and scared about lifting of pandemic restrictions

Kristi Bates paid waitress Katie Hunt for her coffee. At the Littleton Cafe, customers spoke to the Globe about mask restrictions being lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with most expressing a mix of fear and excitement.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement that Massachusetts will lift all pandemic-era restrictions on May 29 had residents in Boston and Littleton reacting with a mix of excitement and fear on Tuesday.

Lisa and David Besse, both 63, of Littleton, were among the customers who stopped by the Littleton Café at 341 King St. around lunchtime Tuesday. When asked how she felt about the COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, Lisa Besse said, “I’m half horrified, and half grateful.”

“I’m grateful that we can be outside without a mask,” she said. “But I’m horrified that people are taking it to the extreme that they take it to. Even though mask restrictions aren’t lifted inside, you’ll still see them go into a CVS or Walmart and have to be told to put their mask on. For God’s sake, we’re all adults. Follow the guidelines.”

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She also expressed concern that some people who aren’t vaccinated might go maskless in stores, and there won’t be a way to stop them.

”I don’t like the honor system,” she said. “People do lie. Who are we kidding, right? People will tell you that they’re fully vaccinated. I’m waiting for the vaccine police to show up. That’s going to be next… we’re going to require documentation.”

David Besse said he’s happy masks will no longer be required outdoors, but he said lifting the indoor mask mandate may have happened too quickly.

”I think that the guidance from the CDC has been a little bit confusing,” he said. “I think that could have been handled better,” he said. “And going with this honor system is not something that I think is a good idea. People aren’t going to be honest.”

Karen Schneider, 63, of Littleton, said the news of the mandates being lifted came as a surprise.

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”Because we were so strict, now it seems like we’re going a little bit fast to get to where there’s no restrictions,” she said.

Schneider said even though she’s vaccinated, she plans on wearing a mask when she’s in public spaces indoors.

”I’m still going to wear my mask when I go into the grocery store,” she said. “And I’ll probably wear my mask next winter, because nobody got sick this year. There was no flu, there were no colds. ... So it has to be the mask, I think it definitely helped. I love being outside and not having to mask if everybody’s vaccinated — I think it’s great. But I do think when you’re inside, you should still have a mask on.”

Kristi Bates, 55, of Westford, said she was concerned about the timing of rolling back the restrictions.

“I was surprised — it seemed a little quick,” she said. “I’m concerned because the kids haven’t been vaccinated yet. I do think we’re moving in the right direction, but I just think it’s a little faster than I want. ... I’d rather see this in maybe a month or so. So it’s a little concerning. But I’m also happy — I’m happy to walk outside without a mask.”

Dan Hurley, 62, of Littleton, said the date felt somewhat arbitrary.

”For me it seems weird ... that apparently on the 28th the virus is still contagious, but on the 29th it’s not,” he said, with a chuckle.

Hurley said he has no plans to wear a mask if he doesn’t have to. “The only reason I wear a mask, to be frank, is so I don’t get yelled at by people,” he said. Hurley noted that pop goddess Lady Gaga has described wearing a mask as a “sign of respect” for others.

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“I don’t wear the mask for me, I wear it out of respect,” he said.

In Roxbury’s Nubian Square Tuesday, some people said they don’t plan to toss their masks anytime soon.

Orson Walker, 68, said he felt Baker’s decision was hasty, telling a reporter he’s not comfortable being unmasked around others, with no way to ensure they’re vaccinated.

“I can’t take chances,” Walker said. “I’ve still gotta protect myself.”

Walker’s 15-year-old grandson, Jamal Davis, said he also felt it was too early for people to start going unmasked, since some are resistant to getting vaccinated.

Shirley Jefferson, 63, said she believes it’s “not too safe” because “lots of people” still haven’t received their second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Even though she’s fully vaccinated, Jefferson said, she remains “scared to trust” others and “quick to slide on” her mask when she walks past an unmasked person.

Jefferson, who saw her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren for the first time in more than a year Sunday, said she lives alone and “doesn’t let anyone in” to her home.

It would be “safer if everyone got vaccinated,” she added.

Yashonna Jennings, 49, and Nitika Rose, 48, said people should have a choice of whether or not to wear their masks in public.

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Jennings said she would like “some kind of test” as a way to “see if you have been [vaccinated]” whenever someone enters an indoor place. She doubted the effectiveness of vaccine cards because “anyone can print stuff.”

Rose said she’s “still cautious” and the virus is “still a concern” since it’s impossible to tell who’s not vaccinated.

“It’s still too soon to call it,” Rose said.

As of May 29, businesses will be able to reopen at full capacity, and mask regulations that have been in effect since April of last year will be limited to just a handful of higher-risk locations, Baker told reporters Monday. Before these changes, venues such as nightclubs and spas were slated to reopen Aug. 1 statewide and on Aug. 22 in Boston. Baker also said Monday that the state of emergency, which gave him wide latitude to impose pandemic restrictions, will be lifted June 15.

“Massachusetts is on track to reach its goal of vaccinating 4.1 million residents by early June,” Baker said Monday during a State House briefing. “We have made tremendous progress, and that’s why we are able to do what we’re doing here and what we’re proposing here today.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, tweeted Tuesday that the ongoing vaccination drive nationwide is cause for tempered optimism.

“I’m cautiously optimistic as #COVID19 cases continued to decrease & we are vaccinating between 1.5 & 2 million people per day, incl. more than 600,000 12-15-year-olds last week,” Walensky wrote. “More than 4.1 million adolescents age 12 to 17 have been vaccinated so far.”

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She added that it’s “vital that we ensure #COVID19 vaccination coverage is uniform across the country. We must meet people where they are, listen to their concerns, and help people make informed decisions about vaccination.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.