With Covid-19 case rates on the wane and vaccination rates waxing strongly, Gov. Charlie Baker this week eased the state’s stringent mask mandate and laid out the last phase of a reopening schedule that will allow larger indoor and outdoor gatherings starting Memorial Day weekend.
Effective Friday, face coverings will only be required outdoors when it is not possible to socially distance, easing a stringent mask-mandate that has been in place since the start of last summer. The $300 fine for noncompliance has also been lifted.
Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places, as well as at all events or functions.
Governor Baker set a target date of August 1 date for a full reopening, but said it could come sooner or later, depending on the vaccination process.
The final stages of the state reopening plan were announced Tuesday and come more than a year after a statewide lockdown was instituted in spring of 2020.
While new cases of Covid-19 have fallen sharply statewide since January, Martha’s Vineyard experienced a surge of infections starting in late March that is just beginning to abate. In a weekly summary issued Monday, the Island boards of health reported 61 new confirmed tests for the coronavirus during the week ending Saturday, April 24. Over the next five days, 40 more positive tests were reported, including eight on Thursday.
Still, the numbers are lower than for the previous three weeks, when new case counts totaled 101, 73 and 77 respectively. Health agents reported no new case clusters, and both patients who were hospitalized with the virus last week have been discharged, according to a report from the hospital. The hospital reported one hospitalized patient on Thursday.
After a slow start, the vaccination process on the Island has picked up steam with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital surpassing its 10,000 first-dose shot mark on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, 59 per cent of Island residents had received one dose and 39 per cent had been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health, using 2019 census data
The Island’s vaccination efforts received a jump start with the arrival of 1,700 Moderna vaccines on Friday afternoon. The vaccines were part of a larger shipment last week of 4,040 vaccines — about half Moderna, half Pfizer — made possible through a new federal partnership with the community health center Island Health Care.
Appointments for adults are now widely available on the Island, including second shots for those who received their first doses elsewhere.
With much of the Island’s older population already vaccinated, data from the Island boards of health show that most of the new cases are among younger people. The Monday report showed 66 per cent of the past week’s new positive cases involved patients under the age of 40, and 48 per cent under the age of 30. Only two new patients over the age of 60 tested positive.
Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, the state has stopped and started on its multi-step, four-phase reopening plan, at different points easing and strengthening restrictions regarding masks, dining, social gatherings and the economy alongside the ebb and flow of Covid-19 infections across the commonwealth.
The state is currently in the beginning of the fourth phase of the plan, with most indoor businesses open with capacity restrictions and large outdoor gatherings strictly limited.
The governor’s announcement this week outlined a step-by-step easing of those restrictions and a comprehensive timeline for fully reopening all facets of the state’s economy — in the process giving the first end-date for the reopening process since the state shutdown last year.
Effective Monday, May 10, indoor and outdoor stadiums will be permitted to double their capacity from 12 per cent to 25 per cent, outdoor theme parks and water parks will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity and road races will be allowed to take place with staggered start times.
Youth and adult tournaments will be allowed in moderate and high-risk sports, and singing will be allowed at indoor performance venues.
Starting May 29 — the Saturday before Memorial Day — gathering limits will increase to 200 people indoors and 250 people outdoors for event venues, public settings and private settings. Street festivals, parades and agricultural festivals will be permitted to open at 50 per cent of their previous capacity, and bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries and distilleries will be open subject to restaurant rules, with no dance floors.
The state also plans to eliminate regulations requiring food to be served with alcohol on May 29, and to increase the maximum table size to 10.
Effective August 1, the state plans to allow for bars and nightclubs to open and to lift all industry restrictions. Capacity will increase to 100 per cent for all industries as well, the press release states, and gathering limits will be rescinded.
The dates are subject to change depending on public health metrics, including case counts and hospitalization rates, state officials cautioned.
“We hope with more vaccines, and a continued success in stopping Covid, we can take this step earlier,” Governor Baker said. “But it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated, and doing the right things.”
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer,” he added.
The easing of the mask mandate coincided with new guidance for Americans who have been vaccinate from the Center for Disease Control, which said Tuesday that masks are no longer suggested for small outdoor gatherings and outdoor dining.