South Station was bustling Thursday, with fans heading to Fenway Park for an afternoon Red Sox game and tourists setting out for a day of sightseeing. And with transit passengers no longer required to wear a mask, the latest pandemic mandate to be lifted, smiles were on full display.
But roughly half of the crowd inside the train terminal chose to wear a mask still, following the advice of public health specialists as the coronavirus continues to swirl. On Thursday, the Boston Public Health Commission renewed its recommendation that residents wear masks in indoor public settings, citing a 65 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the city over the past two weeks.
“I think it’s crazy,” Margaret Parks, a Maine resident headed to New Jersey on Amtrak, said of the mask requirement ending. “I really think it’s too soon. I’m wearing mine.”
Parks said she had chosen to sit beside a masked passenger on the first part of her trip as an added precaution.
“I’ve been vaccinated, but still it just makes me feel more comfortable,” Parks said. “I can’t tell if it’s going to make any difference, but I’m trying to. I’m old.”
On Monday, a Florida federal judge struck down the nationwide mask mandate for public transit, and across the nation, cities and airports quickly said passengers would no longer have to wear face coverings. The MBTA dropped its requirement on Tuesday, although the US Justice Department is appealing the judge’s order that struck down the mask requirement.
Stephen Ornberg, who lives in Westerly, R.I., said he wasn’t going to wear a mask if he didn’t have to. On the commuter rail into Boston, about half the passengers were wearing masks, he said.
“At this point, I think the virus is going to do what it’s done, and the people who are vaccinated are vaccinated,” Ornberg said. “It’s gotten down to a point of personal preference. I don’t think the masks are going to probably make much of a difference.”
Brandon Sherman, a bartender who lives in Sharon, was walking through South Station without a mask. But he had worn it on the train to Boston and said he planned to keep his face covered in closer quarters.
“I don’t really know how I feel about them removing the whole mandate,” said Sherman, 20. “I feel like [they’re needed] when you’re really close to people, like on the commuter rail. And we’re taking the Amtrak so we’re with people kind of the whole time so I think I’ll wear one then.”
Cameron Turnbull, who lives in Middleborough and works for National Grid, said context is key.
“It just really comes down to how many people are around you,” Turnbull said. “If I’m with a huge group of people, I’ll keep it on.”
Melvin and Lora Olaes, a New York couple who took the train to Boston for a video game convention with their two young children, said they kept their masks on the whole trip and plan to continue doing so on public transit.
“I personally feel like it’s fine for most people” to abandon face coverings, Lora Olaes said. “I’m immunocompromised, so I’m gonna keep wearing my mask.”
Melvin Olaes agreed that it should be left to individuals to decide what level of risk they were willing to take.
“I feel like it’s a good idea to wear a mask but I don’t think it necessarily needs to be mandated,” he said. “I think enough people have vaccines and stuff that you can make your own choice.”
At the Downtown Crossing MBTA stop, Emily Graham, 20, had her mask on and said lifting the mandate was “a poor reaction” when so many people are still dying of COVID-19.
“It’s terrifying to see the glee with which people reacted to it, particularly things like when immunocompromised people or folks who have to rely on public transport had the mask mandate dropped on them,” said Graham, who lives in Franklin. “And it’s deeply upsetting to see the way that people react happily to these people’s rights ... being limited going forward.”
But Jennie Tsai, 49, of Bedford, N.H., was unmasked at Park Street station and said circumstances will dictate whether she wears one.
“I may err on the side of caution,” only dropping the mask “if there’s not that many people around me,” Tsai said. “And if somebody starts coughing, you just kind of use your judgment.”
At the Government Center MBTA station, Giulia Trolli, a graduate student at Northeastern University, said she feels safer wearing a mask, mandate or not.
“I know it’s not technically required anymore, like in a lot of places,” she said. “But it’s just, personally, I feel like for my own sake I’d rather have it.”