Here's What You Can Do Under The State's New COVID Rules, And When

A group of people partying. (Getty Images)
A group of people partying. (Getty Images)

Editor's Note: On May 17, the Baker administration announced its plan to end nearly all business restrictions and mask-wearing mandates for Massachusetts residents on Saturday, May 29. The state of emergency in Massachusetts will also end on June 15. Individual businesses are allowed, Baker said, to require masks or apply other COVID-related precautions at their discretion.

Face coverings will still be required on public and private transportation services, the administration said in its announcement, "including rideshares, livery, taxi, ferries, MBTA, Commuter Rail and transportation stations," as well as at "healthcare facilities and providers, congregate care settings and health and rehabilitative day services."

Our earlier post below contains previously cited dates for the lifting of business restrictions. Now that the state has fast-tracked its reopening timeline, moving up the date from Aug. 1, all answers to the questions below are dated. With the exception of businesses that opt to preserve certain restrictions, it is presumed that nearly all activities may return to pre-COVID rules as of May 29.

Nearly a year after Gov. Charlie Baker announced a four-phased reopening plan for the state, the final steps of the plan are now within sight.

Starting Friday, you'll no longer need to wear a mask outdoors as long as you can remain a safe distance from others, and throughout May, more and more businesses will be able to reopen and/or increase their capacities.

As long as people continue to get vaccinated, and coronavirus case numbers and deaths go down, every business in the state can completely reopen on Sunday, Aug. 1, Baker said.

Before you get too excited about your "hot person summer," remember that you'll still need to wear a mask indoors, and if you're in crowded areas outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released new guidelines Tuesday, which boil down to: most outdoor activities are safe without a mask for vaccinated people and for unvaccinated people who are with members of their own household, but you should still mask up in many indoor scenarios and in crowded public places. Continue to bring your mask with you whenever you leave the house.

There are a lot of nitty-gritty details and scenarios to consider in the state's reopening plans. We've taken a shot at answering some questions you might have below.

Mass. Reopening Plan: What Can I Do, And When?

When can I throw a huge rager at my house?

According to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the state’s loosening of restrictions on gatherings will apply to both public and private locations. So, as of May 29, you will be able to throw a party for up to 200 of your closest friends, and you can invite another 50 people if you keep your rager outdoors.

Now, rules are one thing, and common sense is another. Given the CDC’s advice to vaccinated people to avoid hanging out indoors with large gatherings, especially if many unvaccinated individuals are present, it might be safer and smarter to trim up your guest list. The CDC does say it is OK for vaccinated people to visit with other vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing.

Remember standing around the bar? When can my friends and I do that again?

You and your pals can crowd the bar again starting on Aug. 1. That's when industry-specific restrictions on all businesses — including bars, night clubs and other venues often powered by alcohol — will be lifted.

You should also note that bars, breweries and restaurants can, starting on May 29, serve alcohol without food, but one rule that the state is sticking to through Aug. 1 is that all customers must be seated at tables of no more than 10 people. Again, this is the plan, as long as everything keeps going in the right direction when it comes to vaccinations and hospitalizations.

Do these guidelines apply to just those who are fully vaccinated, or everyone?

These guidelines apply to everyone. But state officials are urging all residents to get vaccinated. Here are tips on how to sign up for a vaccine appointment.

When all businesses reopen on Aug. 1, will wearing masks inside them still be mandatory?

In short, yes, if that business is indoors. The governor said that he does not intend to lift the state's mandatory mask rule for indoor businesses, and public health data make clear that wearing masks indoors has been a critical part of preventing the spread.

Some businesses that are outdoors will no longer need to require mask-wearing, unless those businesses draw crowds that don't allow people to physically distance from one another. And, some of those businesses might opt to enforce their own safety rules around mask-wearing.

Can I work out at an outdoor fitness class without a mask?

That's going to depend on the gym or fitness instructor. It's possible that if you are spread apart from others in the class or area, you won't have to.

When can I order a drink at a bar without having to also order food?

Get psyched for Memorial Day weekend, because you won’t need to order pretzels or burgers with your booze. Starting Saturday, May 29, current rules dictating that bars, breweries, restaurants and wineries cannot serve patrons who order alcohol only will disappear.

My wedding is this summer. Can I finally expand my guest list, and by how many people?

Congratulations! And yes, if your wedding is entirely outdoors and is after May 29, you can invite up to 250 people. If you bring the fun indoors, you’ll need to reduce your guest list to 200 people.

And remember that while other venues — like nightclubs and restaurants — will need to wait until August to open up their dance floors, weddings are currently exempt from this requirement.

Do kids at summer camps need to wear masks?

According to the CDC, masks should be worn at summer camps for indoor and outdoor activities. However, there are some exceptions for certain activities, like eating and swimming. When kids and counselors are wearing masks, they can be within 3 feet of each other, but it jumps to 6 feet when masks are off — just like the protocols schools are currently following.

Do I have to wear a mask either if participating or watching a road race or other sports event?

Most likely. Road races can start in Massachusetts come May 10. If you’re lacing up, expect staggered start times to help with distancing – that’s the requirement from the state. The state is also requiring event coordinators to submit public safety plans to local boards of health. This means if professional race organizers deem it necessary and include it as part of their safety plans, you may need to wear a mask to participate. Other things that may potentially be asked of you: a negative COVID test or vaccination status confirmation. It all depends on the organizer. Be sure to read over the details before you sign up.

If you’re on the sidelines cheering, put on your mask if you’re in a crowd and not able to distance from others. But if it’s just you and your “No time for Walken” sign, you don’t need to wear it. Another suggestion for spectators: It’s probably best to skip on passing out orange slices for now. It’s a nice sentiment, but we’re not quite there yet.

And remember that different groups will have different rules. Your town might not require masks at the kids' soccer games, but other towns and cities might.

When can I go out dancing at the club?

Aug. 1. Until then, we’re still living in a dance-free, Footloose-esque world.

When can I sweat it out at the sauna or steam room?

Aug. 1 is when you can hit the spa and sweat out all the toxins of the past stressful year.

Give me the rundown on family fun: arcades, laser tag, ball pits, bowling, go-karts, mini-golf, rollerskating.

On May 10, amusement parks and outdoor water parks can reopen at 50% capacity. Indoor water parks and ball pits don’t open until Aug. 1. However, activities like laser tag, bowling, go-karts, mini-golf and rollerskating are already open with capacity limits. Those limits get lifted Aug. 1, like all the other capacity limits.

Whether you need to wear a mask or not will depend on two things: whether the activity is inside or outside; and if the private business owner opts for stricter rules than the state. As always, bring a mask, just in case. It’s better to be prepared. And if you’re touching shared equipment, like renting putters for mini golf, you’ll likely want to bring your travel-sized hand sanitizer with you, too. (Though that was true pre-pandemic as well, if we're being honest!)

When can I hit the water parks? What about Six Flags and other amusement parks?

Unlike last year, you’ll get the chance to beat the summer heat with the reopening of outdoor water parks — like Six Flags — on May 10. That same day, many amusement parks may also bring back customers.

But, places that keep the water slides indoors, like CoCo Key Water Park in Danvers, will remain closed until Aug. 1.

Six Flags in Agawam, in particular, did technically open to the public on April 10 — but without its rollercoasters, rides or water park. Like other amusement parks, it will be able to more fully reopen on May 10. (Also, Six Flags says it will honor any 2020 season passes this year.)

Now, amusement parks notoriously draw large crowds. So, don’t forget to bring a mask for moments when you can’t safely distance from others — even if the fun you’re having is outside. You should also be sure to check websites for any amusement, theme or water park, because the state will only permit those that submit safety plans to operate at up to 50% capacity on May 10.

Do I need to wear a mask inside the grocery store still?

Yes, you do. Again, the questions to consider are: Am I indoors? If outdoors, like at a farmer’s market, can I physically distance myself from others?

If you’re indoors, you need a mask. If you’re outdoors but can’t get 6 feet away from others at all times, you need a mask.

Will I feel awkward still wearing a mask at outdoor events?

Maybe. But you should follow the recommended protocols to keep you and your loved ones safe, even as we slowly return to pre-pandemic-like social situations. NPR's Life Kit has some good tips on what to do when you feel uncomfortable that other people aren't following the guidelines. The biggest takeaways: You're not the mask police. You can only control your own behavior.

Are you feeling anxious about the return to some kind of normalcy? Forgotten how to have a conversation with other people face-to-face? You're not alone — this episode of Life Kit says science tells us that we all tend to be more self-conscious than necessary in new social situations. And navigating post-pandemic life is new to all of us.


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Meghan B. Kelly Multi-platform Editor
Meghan is the multi-platform editor for WBUR.


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Lisa Creamer is WBUR's managing editor for digital news.


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