Governor Charlie Baker marked the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions effective Saturday during a State House news conference Friday, remarking that “brighter days are very much upon us.”
Baker reiterated during the briefing that most restrictions, including capacity limits at businesses, are going by the wayside Saturday, and he signed orders to that effect as cameras clicked.
“The people of Massachusetts have been through so much over the past year, but together they’ve done a spectacular job of putting COVID on the run,” Baker said. “I want to start by thanking so many people here in Massachusetts for getting vaccinated, and to the men and the women who put together the clinics that made it possible for Massachusetts to be a national leader in its vaccination” drive.
Currently, Baker said, 78 percent of all adult residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination, and more than 3.5 million people are now fully inoculated against the virus. He said the positive test rate has plummeted to 0.8 percent, and hospitalizations are down by about 90 percent since the height of the second surge early this year.
“This progress has made it possible for us to lift all remaining COVID restrictions effective tomorrow,” Baker said. “As a reminder, all industries will be permitted to open. All capacity restrictions will be lifted and all gathering limits will be rescinded. The face covering order will also be rescinded, and replaced with a face covering advisory that’s consistent with the CDC’s recent updated guidance.”
He reiterated that face coverings will still be required on public and private transportation systems and facilities with vulnerable populations such as health care settings.
Some businesses, Baker stressed, may choose to require masks beyond Saturday, and residents are asked to comply.
In addition, Baker signed an order Friday rescinding the state of emergency, effective June 15, that’s been active since March 2020.
“To prepare for the end of the state of emergency, we filed legislation to temporarily extend a few measures that were put in place by executive order over the previous 15 months,” Baker said. “We’ll work with our colleagues in the Legislature and with municipal leaders to address these issues, hopefully before the 15th of June.”
The governor didn’t elaborate.
“I’m also issuing a modified declaration of a public health emergency, under our public health statute,” Baker said. “This declaration will ensure that the directives that can be issued … to ensure face coverings are worn in the specific settings that I mentioned earlier.”
Baker, a data-crunching former health care executive who rarely emotes in front of the cameras, also shared a moving interaction he recently had with a woman who spoke with him about the toll the pandemic has taken on her.
“There was one person in particular who really couldn’t get through what she wanted to tell me without breaking down,” Baker said, pausing momentarily. “And a year ago, I would have had to just stand there and watch, which would have been awful. And instead I was able to do the thing that all of us want to do when someone we care about is in distress, which is I hugged her.”
He expressed hope that moments like that one will once again become commonplace in a post-pandemic world.
“Because it is one of the ways we all buck each other up,” Baker said.
At the same time, though, the governor cautioned that he wasn’t quite ready to declare COVID-19 a thing of the past in the Commonwealth.
“Unless something very odd happens, I would say that it is pretty much over, but I’ve learned with the COVID virus that the last thing you should ever do is presume you know everything [there] is to know about it,” Baker said. “I would put an asterisk on anything that says it’s over, OK? But I do believe that it is certainly on the run in a big way.”
His words were echoed by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.
“It’s been a very long 15 months to fight the pandemic,” Polito said. “I’m pleased to be here to mark the lifting of business restrictions and look forward to focusing our efforts on recovery moving forward as we get closer to our goal of vaccinating 4 million residents.”