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Weather, caution mute celebration of latest reopening step, loosening COVID-19 restrictions in Mass.

Kasey Eastman, left, Kristy Dickinson, middle, and Jim Eastman, right, had a bloody mary toast at Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe in Boston's South End neighborhood.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Even as the state lifted many of its pandemic-era restrictions Saturday, the unofficial start of summer, celebrations were muted and those who ventured out were cold, wet — and mostly still masked.

But there were signs that the state had turned a corner, in the days leading up to Memorial Day.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting for this day,” said Damian Marciante, whose family owns Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in the South End. The small, historic restaurant had finally returned to its old capacity.

Governor Charlie Baker instituted the new rules Friday by executive order.

“Over the last 15 months, the residents of Massachusetts have shown an incredible amount of strength and resiliency, and we are pleased to take this step forward toward a return to normal,” Baker said in a Friday statement.


People who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks in most settings or practice social distancing, according to the new rules. And organizers of large outdoor gatherings, along with restaurants and other businesses, can end capacity restrictions imposed because of COVID-19, although businesses can also keep restrictions in place.

Some rules remain in place, including mask requirements on buses, trains, planes, and in health care settings. The state recommends that people not fully vaccinated continue to wear masks and remain socially distanced while in public.

The restrictions were lifted as the daily average of new cases in Massachusetts has fallen to levels not reported since September, while the average number of daily deaths is down to 7 as of May 27, according to the latest data available from the state.

As of Friday, the state reported nearly 3.6 million people have been fully vaccinated — more than half the state’s population. Baker’s executive order called for the state of emergency declared March 10, 2020, to expire June 15.


Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist at Northeastern University, said in a phone interview Saturday that the state has made significant progress with vaccinations. But he remains concerned about the threat posed by more-infectious coronavirus variants, particularly one identified recently in India.

Unvaccinated people in Massachusetts will be at high risk, he said, as well as any communities where vaccination rates are lower than the state average. The state must continue its vaccination campaign and try to get 80-85 percent of the population inoculated, he said.

“It’s really important that we celebrate what we achieved, but we focus on getting people vaccinated,” Scarpino said.

The relaxed rules come as welcome news for many businesses, including restaurants, according to Bob Luz, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

“People in the restaurant industry certainly feel like we’re going to be able to put this in the rearview mirror starting today,” Luz said in a phone interview Saturday. “There is a strong, pent-up desire there” among customers.

On Saturday, what might have been the state’s biggest party day coincided with weather that felt more like November than late May. By early afternoon, Boston had reached just 50 degrees under gray skies with a cold driving rain.

And it hardly appeared that new rules were in effect, with even stores like Trader Joe’s, which lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated shoppers May 14, filled with masked employees and customers.

As one customer at the Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive in Cambridge put it, she will continue to wear her mask until the day “when no one is wearing a mask.”


At Quincy Market, well more than half of visitors and employees were masked Saturday morning, and perspectives on the matter ran a wide spectrum.

A visitor from North Carolina immediately took off his mask in the market after learning it was not required and announced his intention to only wear it outside — due to the weather.

“The only reason I’m wearing this thing is because I get wind burn,” said Michael Hall, 59.

“I think I’ll keep it forever,” Laura Rivas, 24, said of her mask, as she walked the hall with a group of fully vaccinated, mask-wearing visitors from Puerto Rico.

“Mask-achusetts,” said Eric Menzel, mocking the high number of people continuing to wearing masks in the state. “I think [mask-wearing] has to do with social shaming and norms. It’s a typical leader-follower scenario.”

Menzel who had come from Ohio to celebrate his graduation from a Harvard University master’s program, even though in-person events were not offered by the school, said he has gotten judgmental looks from mask-wearers for not wearing one.

“You get the odd weird stare,” he said, adding that “people not wearing masks feel vindicated when you see another person” not wearing one.

“I don’t want to be different,” said Mark Lundein, longtime chef-owner of Walrus and the Carpenter Oyster Bar in Quincy Market on his decision to wear a mask, which he wore half-on Saturday morning. “I don’t want to make any statement by wearing or not wearing it.”


Lundein noted that there has been an uptick in business at the market and said the new rules should help.

“If today was 75 and sunny, it would probably be the best day,” he said.

But many opted for traditional rainy day activities like a trip to the museum or the movies.

At the MFA, almost all patrons wore masks, even though they are optional. At Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, mask-wearing was required and that put some cautious visitors at ease.

“I welcome a change to get closer to normal life,” said Michael Short, 81, of Wayland, as he waited for an afternoon screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” his first film in a theater in a year.

He remains cautious, and said he and his son and grandson, who joined him, would likely get takeout later Saturday rather than go maskless in a restaurant.

Naomi Okeke, 17, a Boston University student, said the theater’s mask requirement put her at ease as she went to see her first movie at a theater in a year.

“Americans can’t be trusted with the honor system,” she said. “I’m happy to wear a mask for the rest of my life.”

But back at Charlie’s, it was for the first time in a long time, an almost-normal day.

The hole-in-the-wall joint opened at 7:30 in the morning and reached capacity by 9:30 a.m. with about 30 customers seated inside, according to Marciante, whose family bought the South End mainstay in 2017.


Servers handed out menus to customers lined up at the counter, a scene that was unthinkable only a few months ago, when the restaurant mostly relied on takeout service.

“It’s an amazing feeling, let me tell you,” Marciante said. “It feels so good.”

Jonathan Wiggs, Erin Clark, and Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.