Editorial: New mask mandate: Believe it

  • Maggie Melchiorre of Lyonsville Farm wears a madk as she helps a customer at the first Greenfield Farmers Market of the season. Others attending the market were required to wear masks along with taking other precautions. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Published: 5/6/2020 3:19:41 PM

Starting Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker’s new mask mandate, announced Friday, takes effect statewide. Before, it had been a recommendation; henceforth, it’s the law. Here’s what it says and how it applies to Hampshire and Franklin counties:

Masks are required in outdoor and indoor public places, “if they can’t socially distance.”

The facial coverings, Baker said, don’t have to be proper masks, but can be T-shirts or bandanas. In fact, he urged that people reserve medical-grade masks like N95 respirators for front-line health care workers. The order does not apply to children under 2, and it does not apply to anyone who cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition.

Under the new order, all employees and customers of grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail establishments that have been allowed to stay open must wear masks at all times. It also gives businesses the authority to deny someone service if they don’t wear a mask. That means, if you go to Stop & Shop or Big Y, for instance, you have to wear a mask. They may not serve you otherwise. “Even if you can stay 6 feet away, especially if you’re inside, you probably ought to have a face covering on,” Baker said.

Outdoors, there is still some ambiguity. Asked specifically about joggers and bicyclists, Baker said if someone is running early in the morning and confident they won’t encounter other people, they might be able to exercise without a mask. But if they go running during the afternoon, when more people are out, they should probably cover their face, Baker said.

The law says nothing about private property, so you and your household members can sit outside and work outside on your own land without wearing masks. But if you are within 6 feet of a public sidewalk, you should be wearing a mask. If you are standing in your backyard talking to your next-door neighbor, the 6-foot social distancing rule applies.

Baker said that he thought “people for the most part” had been adhering to the recommendation he made April 10 to use a face covering in public. Apparently, he hasn’t been out to some parts of western Massachusetts lately.

Over the weekend, the warm temperatures tested the guidelines when it came to the great outdoors. For example, at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center picnic area on Sunday, the parking lot was full and so were the picnic tables, presumably populated by same-household family groups, although their make-up in some cases strained credulity. Only a very small percentage of people were wearing masks. People were walking throughout the picnic area and along the riverbank, maskless, but maintaining 6 feet from other couples or groups.

On Sunday, that may have satisfied the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. Not anymore: Starting Wednesday, masks are required in outdoor public places.

Failure to comply can result in a fine of up to $300. Baker said he is mainly leaving enforcement up to cities and towns.

Baker is suggesting we should get used to this: “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. This is going to be a way of life,” he added. “No ifs, no ands, no buts, no doubts.”

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