When the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, the state of emergency that had been in effect statewide for the 462 days of the coronavirus pandemic officially lifted — and along with it, much of the remaining guidance.
Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10 of last year in response to the outbreak — when, according to the state, there were 91 presumed cases of the virus in Massachusetts. A number of orders and related regulations were adopted, from limits placed on gatherings to required face coverings.
At the end of May this year, the Baker administration rescinded the majority of restrictions, including limitations placed on businesses, and signed an order terminating the state of emergency on June 15.
“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 towards a return to normal,” the governor said.
But what will change in Massachusetts now that the state of emergency has been lifted? Here’s what to know.
What exactly is a state of emergency?
A state of emergency can be declared by the governor if a natural or man-made disaster is at risk of happening or is ongoing, according to the state website. The Cold War-era state law grants the governor and other state officials special powers aimed at protecting the public.
When Baker put into effect the COVID state of emergency last March, the official declaration said it was critical in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and “protect the health and welfare” of residents.
Such declarations may apply to a specific municipality, multiple communities, or the entire state, according to the site. Under a state of emergency, the governor can issue executive orders to meet the needs of said emergency or disaster. These orders, according to the state, are to be treated as law and may override existing law for as long as necessary.
A state of emergency only ends when it is no longer needed to either conduct emergency business or keep residents safe, according to the state.
What did this state of emergency do?
A state of emergency is declared to help state agencies shield residents from the immediate dangers of a disaster, according to the state. Under such a declaration, resources are provided for shelter, rescue, or evacuation. Areas of daily life that may be affected by a state of emergency include travel, business, school, and the government.
Under the state of emergency imposed during the pandemic, a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers arriving in Massachusetts was instituted, all K-12 schools in the state were ordered to suspend in-person instruction, and capacity limits were placed on businesses and activities across most sectors.
The declaration stated that it would “facilitate and expedite the use of Commonwealth resources and deployment of federal and interstate resources to protect persons from the impacts of the spread of COVID-19.”
What changes now that the state of emergency has lifted?
Residents are unlikely to experience a dramatic change to their lifestyle compared to what they may have seen over the past few weeks. That’s because the vast majority of restrictions implemented during the pandemic were rescinded on May 29. All limits on gatherings were lifted, the state aligned its mask mandate with that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and places like ball pits and dance clubs were allowed to reopen.
The exception to the near-total scaling back of restrictions remains the continued public health requirement that people wear face coverings when in public and private transportation systems, hospitals, and other facilities housing vulnerable populations.
Some orders adopted during the state of emergency have grown popular with residents, including restaurants being able to sell cocktails to-go and expanded outdoor dining. Those expired when the state of emergency lifted, or are set to end in the future. For example, any approvals for restaurants to host outdoor dining are set to expire in mid-August, meaning restaurants would have to take down their pandemic-era setups. Other measures, such as the ability for local legislators to hold remote public meetings, also ended at midnight. Lawmakers are fighting to extend COVID-era policies, so some of these more popular guidelines could stay in place.
But other sunsets, such as the end to the ban on surge pricing for Uber and Lyft, which also ended at midnight, may come with mixed reactions. Riders could be grumpy about the increased prices. Yet booking a ride with the ride-hailing services had become so difficult due to a shortage of drivers that it was likened to an “extreme sport.” The return of surge pricing may put more drivers on the road, thus bringing welcome relief for riders.
Is there a chance any of these orders will be placed back into effect?
For some of the more popular provisions — such as alcohol to-go and expanded outdoor dining — there is a high chance that lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate will reach an agreement to extend their shelf-life. Legislative leaders failed to extend a number of relief measures before the state of emergency expired.
The Senate adopted a bill last week that would extend a series of pandemic-era rules into next year and beyond, such as mail-in voting, greater access to public meetings, the approval and extension of permits for outdoor dining, and certain protections afforded to tenants.
The House Ways and Means Committee pushed forward its own legislation on Monday. Both chambers will reconvene on Tuesday to discuss extensions.