The Massachusetts State House will reopen to the public on Tuesday with various rules and restrictions, including a mask mandate, ending the longest-running closure of a state capitol in the continental United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The return of visitors will come 708 days after legislative leaders first shuttered the building in mid-March 2020 as the virus took hold.
Those age 5 or older will be required to show proof they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, or a negative test from within the last day, to access the building, according to official guidelines released Monday night by the Bureau of the State House. Masks will be required in all common spaces, including hallways, elevators, restrooms, and event spaces within the building.
Children under 5 years old are exempt from both the mask and vaccine or testing mandate.
Visitors will also be limited to entering the State House between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. but can remain in the building if the House or the Senate are still in session “for the purposes of viewing the session.”
The protocols largely align with those sketched out last week by legislative leaders when they announced the State House would reopen. But it also puts the State House at odds with the shifting rules in Boston and elsewhere.
On Friday, Mayor Michelle Wu ended the city’s proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment venues, citing a trio of COVID-19 metrics that fell below previously established thresholds. City officials said they would keep the city’s mask requirement for indoor public spaces in place, with plans to review it in the “coming days.”
Governor Charlie Baker said the state would ease its mask mandate in schools on Feb. 28. Baker lifted a statewide indoor mask mandate last spring and recently relaxed the state’s advice by no longer recommending that healthy, fully vaccinated residents wear masks in indoor public settings.
State House officials said Monday they plan to review the building’s protocols weekly or “more frequently as needed.”
When entering the State House, visitors can show their physical vaccination card, a photo of it, or a digital vaccine certificate, such as the one offered by the state. Those who aren’t vaccinated, or don’t have proof, can enter if they provide a negative PCR test result from within the last day or a photo of a negative at-home test from within the last day, including a date and time stamp, the guidelines state.
No visitors will be asked to show ID as part of the verification process, officials said.
Those who work in the building, including legislative staff, will also be required to wear masks except when they are at their “workstation,” according to an email Senate President Karen E. Spilka‘s office sent staff and lawmakers Monday night.
While the State House will officially reopen, it’s unclear how busy it will be. Many legislative hearings are conducted virtually, and Spilka’s office said Monday that officials are not immediately changing the “format of committee hearings or public events.”
On Tuesday, Baker is slated to testify in-person before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue about $700 million in tax breaks he proposed with his annual state budget plan, according to the committee. The hearing will be livestreamed, but the public will not be allowed into the hearing room.
The building’s prolonged closure had opened legislative leaders to criticism, especially as nearly every other state house took steps to allow visitors to return.
Hawaii is the only other state whose capitol remains closed to the general public, though it has allowed those with appointments to enter. The leader of the Hawaii House said last week that officials intended to reopen the building on March 7, though Senate leaders quickly signaled they had not been consulted.