In a sharp acceleration of the timetable for fully reopening Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced today that all COVID-19-era business restrictions will end on May 29th. Also on that day, the mask mandate will be lifted and replaced with one that follows current CDC guidelines. Whether all municipalities in the state will go along, or choose to keep some restrictions in place a bit longer, remains to be seen.
Reacting minutes after the governor’s announcement, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno was cautious when asked if the city will follow the same timetable and end all business restrictions, gathering size limits, and its mask-wearing requirements on May 29th.
"First of all, I think it is good news we are moving in the right direction, " Sarno said.
" The goalposts have been moved. We should be celebrating that, but we also are not going to jump the gun and say 'Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!'. As we have done before, we will be very systematic in our approach respecting public health, medicine, and the sciences," Sarno said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Baker administration has allowed individual cities and towns to impose more strict requirements than the state as a whole, but not require less than what was dictated by the numerous emergency orders the governor has issued.
A few weeks ago when the state said people were no longer required to wear facemasks outdoors, some places -- Amherst for one – kept the requirement in place.
Dr. Robert Roose, the chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, said Massachusetts has consistently stuck to the science in crafting its rules and regulations regarding COVID and he said he is comfortable relaxing the mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated.
" The risk is not, as with most things, zero, but the data shows the risk is exceptionally rare," Roose said. " I agree it is a strong rationale to relax the masking and social distancing guidelines for those who are fully-vaccinated."
For Springfield, the health data presents mixed signals on whether lifting restrictions in less than two weeks is a good idea.
On the plus side, new cases of COVID-19 in the city have been steadily declining for the last month and a half. Last week there were 154 new confirmed cases – 111 fewer than the week before. The city is no longer deemed to be at high risk for community spread of the virus.
But, the city still lags badly when it comes to having people who are vaccinated against COVID-19. As of last Friday, 25.4 percent of Springfield’s adult population is fully vaccinated while the state’s full vaccination rate is 43.8 percent.
In an effort to get more people vaccinated, Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said all of the city’s neighborhood clinics will accept walk-ins.
"I you don't have an appointment, it is ok," Caulton-Harris said. "Just come and get vaccinated. We will be there to receive you and we will vaccinate you."
With vaccines now approved for adolescents, Caulton-Harris said she has consulted with the Springfield Public Schools about setting up vaccination clinics for students.
Another potential sign the pandemic is ending is hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to drop. Baystate Health reported 39 COVID-19 patients are being treated in its hospital system – that is the lowest number since last October. Mercy Medical Center had just four COVID-19 patients.
Also, it has been three weeks since a death from COVID-19 was recorded in Springfield. The disease has claimed the lives of 246 Springfield residents.