State Rarely Enforced Mask And Travel Orders, WBUR Review Finds

Gov. Charlie Baker removes his mask as he steps to the microphone during a press conference on Monday, April 26, at the State House. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Gov. Charlie Baker removes his mask as he steps to the microphone during a press conference on Monday, April 26, at the State House. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Starting Friday, individuals in Massachusetts can no longer be fined $300 for failing to wear a mask or other face covering in public. And Massachusetts recently lifted a $500 fine on travelers who refused to quarantine after coming to the state.

But a WBUR review found that the state's mask and travel orders were rarely enforced.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it didn't fine a single person for violating the travel ban while it was in effect from August to late March.

And a public records request to most cities and towns in Massachusetts uncovered only a small number of examples where people were fined for failing to wear a mask, including ones in Billerica, Lakeville, Shrewsbury and Tewksbury.

For instance, a health agent in Lakeville issued a $300 ticket to an individual at a fitness club in late January for refusing to wear a mask and telling other members they didn't have to wear a mask either.  The town of Billerica said it issued a total of 19 citations, with fines ranging from $100 to $300 each.

But most other communities, including Boston and Sunderland, opted to take a gentler approach, encouraging people to wear a mask instead of citing them.

"Any time we may have been called to deal with any complaints surrounding citizen complaints of the face covering order, we took more of an educational approach and updated the caller surrounding the order or the people who may have been violating said order," said Sunderland Police Chief Erik Demetropoulos in an email.

Caitlin McLaughlin, director of media relations for Boston's public health commission, said Boston similarly "used a strategy focused on engagement and educational efforts to increase awareness about the benefits of mask wearing."

The state is still asking people to wear masks or face coverings in public spaces indoors, including stores and offices, for the foreseeable future or in crowded public spaces outside where social distancing isn't possible. Some cities, such as Somerville and Cambridge, also have their own mask orders.

In addition, the state still advises most visitors to quarantine for 10 days after entering Massachusetts unless they have been vaccinated, have had a negative test or plan to be in the state for less than 24 hours, but there is no longer a fine attached.

With COVID-19 cases coming down and vaccinations going up, the state has begun the process of easing restrictions related to the pandemic. Gov. Charlie Baker credits Bay State residents for largely following protocols and getting vaccinated in larger numbers than most other states.

"I think the trends here over the course of this have been an incredibly positive statement made by the people of Massachusetts and have made it possible for us to move to the point where we can start to contemplate getting past a lot of the rules and the regulations and the restrictions that have been in place for over a year," Baker said earlier this week as he announced the rollback of several restrictions that have been in place for close to a year.

State officials contend the main objective of the orders was to emphasize the importance of wearing masks and being careful while traveling during the pandemic, rather than to punish violators.

And while the fine for individuals not wearing masks has been eliminated, fines can still be levied against businesses that violate the sector-specific rules, including mask requirements. Indeed, federal workplace safety regulators recently fined a Lynn tax preparation business $136,000 for barring customers and workers from donning masks.

WBUR Reporter Quincy Walters contributed to this report.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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