Baker relaxes outdoor mask mandate, announces timeline for lifting remaining COVID-19 restrictions

BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced relaxed outdoor mask guidance and said that Massachusetts will transition to Phase 4, Step 2 of its reopening plan next month, marking the beginning of a shift that could ease all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings by August, as long public health data continues to trend positively.

“The light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the hard work of so many, is getting closer,” Baker said. “We can start to look ahead with real optimism for the path forward,” Baker said during a news conference at the State House.

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Starting on Friday, April 30, face coverings will only be required outside in public when it is not possible to socially distance, Baker announced. Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places and will also continue to be required at all times at events, whether they are held indoors, outdoors or in a public space or private home, except for when eating or drinking.

At smaller gatherings in private homes, face coverings are recommended but will no longer be required. Baker noted that the state’s $300 fine as an enforcement mechanism will be eliminated.

“The Administration continues to take steps to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy with public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction,” Baker’s said. “This includes drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations. Massachusetts remains first in the nation for first vaccine doses and total doses administered per capita, among states with more than 5 million people.”

Baker also announced that the state has put plans in place to transition to Phase 4, Step 2 of its reopening plan on May 10 as the vaccination effort ramps up and public health metrics continue to trend positively.

“I talk to other governors all the time…Many of them would give anything to have the same level of excitement and enthusiasm and commitment to getting vaccinated in their states that we see here,” Baker explained. “It’s an incredibly powerful piece of momentum.”

RELATED: Mass. high schools required to bring all students back for full-time, in-person learning by May 17

On May 10, large venues such as indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas, and ballparks currently open as part of Phase 4, Step 1 at 12 percent capacity will be permitted to increase capacity to 25 percent.

The state will reopen some outdoor industries including amusement parks, theme parks, and outdoor water parks at 50 percent capacity on that same day.

Road races and other large organized amateur or professional athletic events will be permitted to take place outdoors with staggered starts, while youth and adult amateur sports tournaments will be allowed for moderate and high-risk sports.

Singing will also be permitted indoors with strict distancing requirements at performance venues, restaurants, event venues and other businesses.

More restrictions are slated to ease on Memorial Day weekend but Baker said the changes are “subject to public health and vaccination data.”

RELATED: Gov. Baker urges younger people to get COVID-19 vaccine

Effective on May 29, 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 allowed to return to 50 percent of their previous capacity on the 29th as well.

Bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries, and distilleries, will also be permitted to reopen on that same day, but they will be subject to restaurant rules with seated service only, a 90-minute limit, and no dance floors. Restaurant guidance will be updated to eliminate the requirement that food be served with alcohol and to increase the maximum table size to 10.

Dance clubs and nightclubs, saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms at fitness centers, indoor water parks, and ball pits will later be allowed to open on Aug. 1.

Also on that day, all other restrictions will be lifted and capacity will increase to 100 percent for all industries, with businesses encouraged to continue following best practices.

Gathering limits will be rescinded at that time as well.

RELATED: 99 percent of Bay Staters follow through with second dose, Baker says

Baker mentioned that he hopes the state can take this final step earlier but it all depends on residents maintaining a willingness to get vaccinated and continuing to do the “right things.”

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

Come Aug.1, Baker said businesses will be encouraged to continue following best practices and guidance will be issued as needed, including guidance to continue to require masks indoors.

The announcements come as all state residents age 16 and over are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations and with the state’s seven-day positive test rate currently below 2 percent.

As of Monday, more than 2.35 million Bay Staters were full vaccinated.

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