|Governor Mandates Wearing of Face Masks in Close Quarters|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff |
02:45PM / Friday, May 01, 2020
BOSTON — Anyone likely to be in close contact with others will have to a wear a face covering starting Wednesday, May 6.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday signed an executive order making the wearing of face masks mandatory in locations where people cannot socially distance at least 6 feet.
"We view this as common sense and an important way on a statewide basis to establish for the long term a set of standards for what we would call the new normal," the governor said at his daily COVID-19 update.
Baker said a significant part of the population is testing positive for the novel coronavirus but shows no symptoms. That means "it's critically important that we all accept the fact that if everybody's wearing a mask it will dramatically reduce the opportunity and the possibility of spread," he said.
Under the order, businesses are authorized to decline admission to anyone over the age of 2 who "refuses to wear a mask or cloth face covering for non-medical reasons," and local municipalities are authorized to invoke fines of up to $300 per violation for anyone violating the executive order.
The governor's executive order specifies that the general public is discouraged from using medical-grade masks, which are to be reserved for "health-care workers and first responders," and Baker reiterated that point in his daily COVID-19 update.
"There are several ways you can make your own face covering using items in your wardrobe," Baker said. "It could be made from a bandana, a T-shirt or other breathable fabric. Disposable masks are also an option."
The order applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations that are currently open to the public and permitted to operate, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores. Residents are also required to wear a mask or face covering at all times when using any means of transportation service or public mass transit.
The mask should cover the mouth and nose and can be materials such as scarfs and bandanas. Children age 2 and younger should not be masked.
There had been initially concerns over wearing masks because experts had thought the novel coronavirus was more contagious through contact and masks would make people more likely to touch their faces. But further research has found the COVID-19 virus can stay airborne and that masks, even if they're just bandanas, have been indicated in reducing spread.
"As infectious disease specialists continue to learn more about COVID-19, it's clear that this virus is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person without symptoms," Baker said. "What I mean by that is a significant portion of the people who actually carry the COVID-19 virus never show any symptoms at all but they are in fact contagious."
He noted that many businesses along with health institutions have already made the wearing of masks mandatory within their establishments. For those who don't, some places, notably Salem, already had begun issuing fines for not wearing masks in public.
"We've talked to [Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll] and some of the other and some of the other local officials who put a more aggressive policy in place," Baker said. "What they said to us is they've issued warnings. They haven't had to issue fines.
"And the big message they had is signage and a statewide standard will help dramatically in making this what we would call the standard operating procedure for people when they're going to be out, especially when they're going to be inside premises where they don't have the ability to distance or outside in circumstances where they don't."
Baker was pressed repeatedly to explain why now is the right time to make face coverings mandatory in the commonwealth when the Centers for Disease Control issued guidance advising their use on April 3.
"We put an advisory out a day or two after that," Baker said. "What we're doing today is taking that advisory and turning it into an order, providing a little more specificity, giving cities and towns the tools they can use to both monitor and enforce it. And recognize that this is going to be, for all intents and purposes, a big part of the way we operate as part of the reopening."
Baker said it made sense to keep the enforcement of the order at the local level because it is the local police, boards of health and mayors and town managers who will get the call when someone doesn't wear a face covering at the local supermarket.
The Pittsfield Board of Health on Friday instituted mandatory wearing of masks in all food establishments, effective immediately. Food establishments must also comply with social distancing and capacity guidelines.
"This is no longer a set of recommendations," Mayor Linda Tyer said in her weekly update on Friday morning. "This is an order with enforcement provisions and penalties. Tickets may be issues to the employer for violating this order."
Employers will get a warning for first offense but subsequent violations can lead to fines of up to $300.
The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority on Friday, citing the governor's order, said all riders must using the BTA bus and/or paratransit must wear a mask or face covering over their mouth and nose beginning Wednesday.
"Also, practice social distancing while riding on the bus; maintain space when seating. All riders must be traveling to a critical, essential destination. Critical trips are defined as work related, vital appointments, or necessary shopping trips," according to a statement from the BRTA.
The governor said Bay State residents have been staying at home, avoiding gatherings and socially distancing.
"Our mobility data shows that people have cooperated in many ways to a greater extent than people in practically any other state, if you believe some of the reports that are out there," Baker said. "And it's making a big difference."
Mandating masks builds on the same idea that everyone doing a small thing can go a long way to improving everyone else's ability to avoid the virus, he said. "When folks are out in public places where they cannot social distance, like in stores and on public transportation, everyone needs to wear a face covering for your own protection."
In other COVID-19 related updates on Friday:
• Baker indicated last week's appeal to get Massachusetts residents to continue seeking medical attention for non-COVID issues is paying off.
"I'm pleased to say that we have heard from several of our colleagues in the hospital community that people have been coming into the [emergency department]," Baker said. "People have been reacquainting themselves in some cases with the healthcare system. And we think that continues to be critically important.
"And we do know there have been hundreds of thousands of telehealth visits that have taken place between clinicians and patients since we put that emergency order in place some six weeks ago. That's turned out to be a very effective way for people to engage with their clinicians on a pretty regular basis without having to put either one in a face-to-face situation."
One of the first official acts of the Baker administration at the start of the COVID-19 crisis was to make telehealth visits a required covered benefit under health insurance plans in the commonwealth.
• Baker acknowledged the delivery Friday of 50 ventilators donated by New Jersey to Massachusetts to help with the crisis.
"We estimated that we needed roughly 1,000 ventilators," he said. "We got 400 from the stockpile, 400 from New York, 50 from manufacturers and nine that were donated. Getting 50 more from the state of New Jersey I would describe as, first of all, a generous act on their part, and an insurance policy for us."
Updated with more information at 4:01 p.m.