Baker eases mask mandate, other restrictions

Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Pool photoGov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that the state is on track to enter the final stage of reopening by Aug. 1. 

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is relaxing a mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions as the state’s public health metrics continue to improve.

Beginning Friday, face coverings won’t be required outdoors when social distancing is possible, Baker said. Masks will still be required indoors but a $300 fine for violating the rules is being eliminated.

On May 10, the state will enter the next phase of reopening, allowing venues such as ballparks to increase capacity to 25% while amusement parks and theme parks will be permitted to increase capacity up to 50%, Baker said at a briefing Tuesday.

About two weeks later, on May 28, limits on gatherings will increase to 200 people indoors and 250 outdoors, and street festivals will be allowed to increase capacity to 50%.

Restaurants will be allowed to seat more than 10 people at one table, and a requirement that they serve food with alcohol will be eliminated.

By Aug. 1, the state will enter the final stage of reopening with restrictions fully lifted for nightclubs, indoor water parks, saunas, ball pits and other venues that have been closed for the past year to prevent spread of the virus.

Baker suggested the timeline could be shortened, depending on public health data and vaccination rates.

“We hope that with more vaccines and continued success in stopping COVID-19, we can take this step earlier, but it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated doing the right things,” he said.

The changes come as the state continues to see a decline in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. On Monday, the state reported 812 new cases, 12 deaths and a seven-day positivity rate of 1.72% — the lowest level since last summer.

Massachusetts is among the top states for vaccinations per capita, with 5.7 million doses administered as of Monday, and more than 2.3 million people fully vaccinated. The state has about 7 million residents.

The state last month allowed the reopening of entertainment and sports venues, with limited capacity, and eased travel restrictions.

Baker has been under pressure from conservative groups to lift the remaining restrictions as more people are vaccinated and neighboring states take similar steps.

Two weeks ago, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu lifted a statewide mask mandate, citing fewer COVID-19 cases and rising numbers of vaccinated people. Rhode Island and Connecticut are also phasing out mask mandates and other restrictions.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Tuesday that high schools will be required to reopen for in-person instruction five days a week beginning May 17. Middle and elementary schools were required to reopen for full-time instruction over the past two weeks.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance for outdoor masks, with experts saying the risk of spreading COVID-19 is very low outdoors, especially with social distancing.

“I think it’s pretty common sense now that outdoor risk is really, really quite low,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, told ABC News on Sunday. “If you are a vaccinated person, wearing a mask outdoors, obviously, the risk is minuscule.”

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Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. 

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