City, Coronavirus, News

Boston to lift indoor mask mandate

indoor dining
Three people sit inside Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue. The city of Boston announced that the mask mandate for indoor spaces will be lifted Mar. 5 as positivity rates drop and approximately 70% of the city is fully vaccinated. PERRY SOSI/DFP STAFF

Boston will lift its mask mandate for indoor spaces such as restaurants, gyms, bars, museums and entertainment venues starting March 5, according to a press release issued by the City.

Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the City made its decision based on data reflecting a decline in positivity rates of COVID-19, which dropped from over 32% in January to 2.5% as of March 1.

“I am optimistic about where our city is headed, and the Commission will continue to monitor our key metrics and adjust our policies accordingly,” Ojikutu said.

According to Ojikutu,  approximately 72% of the city is fully vaccinated and Intensive Care Units beds were “below thresholds of concern.”

The mask mandate will still apply to public transportation, healthcare settings and to the Boston Public Schools. The City also encouraged vulnerable populations to continue wearing high quality masks to minimize the risk of getting COVID-19.  

“I’m grateful that our city is ready to take this step in our recovery thanks to the hard work and commitment of residents keeping our communities safe over many, many months,” said Mayor Michelle Wu.

Ojikutu said timing played an important role in the City’s decision to lift the mask mandate, claiming families who travel for spring break have the potential to increase transmissibility rates throughout the city.

If rates of community transmission see an uptake from what the current data reflects, a mask mandate could be reinstated, according to the press release.

Amanda O’Brien, a first year student at Northeastern University, said lifting the mask mandate was “premature.”

“It might be a little too early to jump in, or at least go fully from masking to no masking,” O’Brien. “I feel like we’re trying to do a little bit too much at once.”

O’Brien says she will continue to wear a mask, despite the City lifting the mandate.

Sarah Visconti, a freshman at Northeastern University, believes the City’s action was motivated by COVID-19 fatigue. 

“I think people are just tired of having a mask on their face,” Visconti said. “I feel like everyone hopes for some form of normalcy but I think it’s going to be a while until things go completely back to how they were prior to the pandemic.”

Stephen Clark, the director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the mask lift comes with “a sigh of relief.”

“I think most industry operators in the city are ready to continue on the road to recovery,” Clark said.

Clark said the move to remove mask mandates will see an increase in business for Boston restaurants.

“I think the combination of not having the restriction but also having a sense of safety in the sense of having this behind us is beneficial,” Clark said. “And I think people now want to patronize more Boston restaurants.”

Mark Harrington, CEO of Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women Healthworks, said lifting the indoor mask mandate in gyms is beneficial for all. 

“We kind of regularly heard that customers are unwilling to work out in masks, or unwilling to try it, and it’s preventing a lot of casual people from coming in and kind of being active and be healthier,” Harrington said.

Jarone Lee, medical director of the Blake 12 ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital, described the mask mandate lift as “amazing news.” 

“It sort of shows that we’re coming out of the most recent surge,” Lee said.  “We are at a point where we can hopefully get rid of masks in certain settings.”

Lee encouraged people to recognize their own comfort with masking or unmasking and said   those who are immunocompromised or at a high-risk of infection are still prevalent concerns.

“Everyone has to sort of think about their own risk, knowing that there’s still going to be a risk for some folks that [will be] higher than others, and we never really know who those are,” Lee said.

Lee hasn’t ruled out the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another surge with another variant that we’ll have to deal with,” he said.

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