After more and more cities and towns in Massachusetts issued their own orders requiring people to wear face coverings in public to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a statewide mandate Friday.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Baker announced that he had signed an executive order requiring everyone over the age of 2 to wear a face covering in public places where they may not be able to stay six feet away from other people.
The order, which takes effect next Wednesday, applies to public transportation, taxis, ride-sharing services, grocery stores, and all other essential businesses that have remained open in Massachusetts during the public health crisis. Anyone caught disregarding the new requirement will be subject to a potential $300 fine, per violation.
Baker has stressed that masks play an important role in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, given the evidence that as many as 25 percent of people infected don’t have symptoms and could be unwitting carriers. Experts also say that they may help reduce, if not completely eliminate, exposure to virus particles.
“Covering our faces when we cannot practice social distancing is an easy, critically important and essential step that everyone can and should take,” the Republican governor said Friday.
The statewide requirement doesn’t go as far as some local orders that require people to wear a mask at all times in public. But it mirrors a statewide order in Maine that took effect Friday, as the northern New England state begins the first phase of allowing certain businesses to reopen. Earlier this week, Baker extended the shutdown orders in Massachusetts until May 18 and announced an advisory board to discuss how to eventually ease restrictions once the outbreak has begun to subside.
“As part of the strategy around anything associated with reopening, people are going to need a mask or a face covering if they’re going to be close to people,” Baker said Friday.
“There’s two reasons for that,” he added. “One is obviously to protect you from others, but just as important is to protect others from you.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Massachusetts had 62,205 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,562 deaths due to the disease — the third and fourth-highest amounts of any state in the country.
The new face covering order supersedes a previous mask advisory that the Baker administration issued early last month.
The order applies to both employees and customers of retail stores, and businesses are allowed to refuse entry to anyone who refuses to wear a face covering for non-medical reasons. However, in addition to children under the age of 2, people with medical conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask are excluded from the requirement.
Recommended face coverings, which must cover one’s nose and mouth, include masks, scarves, and bandanas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a tutorial on making a simple cloth face covering from pieces of fabric and elastics.
Baker discouraged people from wearing medical-grade masks, which officials are prioritizing for health care workers and other first responders, due to the ongoing widespread shortage.
Baker’s order came hours after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — who had asked but not required residents to cover their face — scolded people who have ignored the city’s guidance and gone into close-contact stores without a mask. During a separate event Thursday, Walsh also urged runners and cyclists to a wear mask (though neither the city of Boston advisory or the new state order specifically addresses those two groups).
“If you’re a millennial and you don’t want to wear a mask because it doesn’t look cool, I really don’t care about that,” Walsh said during a press conference Friday.
However, the governor said that Massachusetts residents have, “for the most part,” adhered to the administration’s previous face covering guidance, as well as the administration’s stay-at-home advisory; he said Bay Staters have cooperated with the latter advisory perhaps more so than “practically any other state,” according the administration’s mobility data.
“It’s making a big difference as we fight this highly contagious disease,” Baker said. “This order builds on the same idea that everyone doing a small thing all the time can go a long way to improving everyone else’s ability to avoid the virus.”
The face covering requirement will remain in place until it is rescinded or officials declare an end to the state of emergency, whichever comes first.
“We view this as common sense and an important way on a statewide basis to establish for the long term a set standards for what we would call the new normal,” Baker said.
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