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Baker and Janey lift mask mandates, business restrictions on May 29

Changes comply with updated CDC guidance

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Baker and Janey lift mask mandates, business restrictions on May 29
Mayor Kim Janey, joined by Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez, briefed reporters on updates to COVID-19 in the City of Boston. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced updated mask guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated people against COVID-19, Governor Baker announced Monday that all mask mandates and business restrictions will be lifted on May 29.

Deciding to mask up is largely left to the individual person and private establishments, except in public transport and healthcare settings.

According to the CDC guidance, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without social distancing and without a mask, except when local governments or businesses require it. This news sparked some debate about how unvaccinated people should behave.

Later on Monday, Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced that Boston will align with the state’s reopening guidelines instead of presenting a modified version as the city has done in the past.

“We have the lowest numbers of active cases since we began tracking over a year ago in April of 2020 … Because of this progress, I am making the decision to align with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and lift the COVID restrictions on May 29th,” said Janey in a press conference.

“But let me be clear. Our battle against COVID is not over,” she continued, and encouraged people who aren’t vaccinated to take the vaccine.

The Commonwealth’s new guidelines lift mask mandates everywhere except for these places: Public and private transit including the MBTA, inside schools, childcare facilities, congregate care facilities and health care facilities. The Governor also said it is okay if other businesses still require them, and said residents should “respect each other’s right” to get back to normal at their own pace. “The Department of Public Health will issue a public health advisory urging all unvaccinated residents to wear face coverings in most indoor settings,” Baker said. Conversely, vaccinated individuals can go back to “doing the things we all used to do before this pandemic, consistent with the CDC’s new guidance,” he said.

According to city data, 58% of Bostonians have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 293,000 individuals are fully vaccinated. However, only 30% of people of color are vaccinated in Boston.

“We have more work to do in our communities of color,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marty Martinez. “We need to continue our on the ground outreach and mobilization to ensure there’s access and awareness of its importance,” he said.

Janey announced that the city is doubling down on its vaccine equity program, providing $3 million in total grants to neighborhood groups that have been going door-to-door in communities of color trying to get them vaccinated.

Though there is no city-level data for vaccinations outlined by race, there are still concerns that not enough Black people are vaccinated after being heavily affected by the pandemic. While mask restrictions are left up to businesses and individuals, unvaccinated people are left vulnerable. In April, Janey said the Equity In Vaccine Access Line has seen some success, and at the time, people of color represented 45% of the vaccines that have been distributed in Boston.

On May 15, the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition held a citywide Youth Vaccination day, after it was announced that youth aged 12-15 were eligible. The Reggie Lewis Center, where mass vaccination events were held specifically for the Black community, hosted youth ambassadors, encouraging their peers to get the shot.

The city plans to continue to fund similar outreach, because, “The fact is, some of our communities that face the highest rates of COVID illnesses and deaths, also have the lowest rates of vaccination,” said Janey.