Visitors will no longer have to wear masks or show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the Massachusetts State House on Monday, legislative leaders said, reversing policies they imposed less than two weeks earlier when they reopened the building.
The announcement late Friday by Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano puts the State House in line with other public spaces in Boston and other communities, where officials have relaxed various rules amid a decline in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
“While some individuals may choose to continue to wear masks, this will no longer be a requirement but rather an individual’s choice based on their preference and level of risk,” Spilka and Mariano said in a joint statement.
They also thanked State House staff, park rangers, and State Police who have provided security for the State House “for ensuring the safety of visitors and staff as we look forward to entering this new phase in our reopening to the public.”
Legislative leaders reopened the State House to the public on Feb. 22, ending the longest-running closure of a state capitol in the continental United States since the virus first gripped the country in March 2020.
In doing so, they required those age 5 or older to show proof they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, or a negative test from within the last day, to access the building. Masks have also been required in all common spaces, including hallways, elevators, restrooms, and event spaces within the building.
But they had teased the mandates could be short-lived. A spokeswoman for Mariano said this week that the rules would be “temporary,” and Spilka acknowledged the steep declines in various metrics officials have used to gauge the spread of the virus.
“The data is changing so rapidly,” the Ashland Democrat said on Monday.
State Police said Tuesday they had arrested two people outside the State House after they arrived with a group protesting the new rules. They were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, among other counts, after a State Police spokesman said they tried to “physically move through” court officers stationed at a makeshift security checkpoint outside the State House.
A roughly hourlong video posted on a Facebook page belonging to someone with the same name as one of those arrested showed a group arguing with state troopers and other security personnel outside the building before a trooper told one man he was “pushing” a pair of court officers.
The trooper then told him to “back up, or you’re going to be arrested.”
“OK,” the man could be heard saying. The trooper then appeared to put him in handcuffs.
One of those arrested had spoken to the Globe last month after she posted videos of herself with another woman in a room at the Boston Public Library’s Hyde Park branch, telling security officers that they wouldn’t wear masks.
But outside the arrests, the building has sat largely quiet since last week, with some offices not immediately opening to visitors and many staff, who would normally be tucked into tight office space, working on a hybrid schedule.
The State House’s rules are not the only ones being relaxed. The Boston Public Health Commission voted this week to end the indoor mask mandate for businesses and other venues starting Saturday. The unanimous vote came less than two weeks after Mayor Michelle Wu ended the city’s proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment venues.
Massachusetts also lifted its statewide mask mandate in schools, with dozens of districts across the state shifting to be “mask-optional.”