By Mark Macchi, Kathleen Berney, Catherine Reuben, David Wilson May 18, 2021
On Monday, May 17, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that effective May 29, 2021 the COVID-19 restrictions previously put in place will be lifted, with caveats concerning face coverings in certain settings. This is a drastic acceleration from the previously announced reopening timeline, which originally scheduled all restrictions to be lifted on August 1 of this year. Governor Baker’s announcement comes on the heels of the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (“CDC”) that fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.
What was announced?
Governor Baker announced that effective May 29, the face covering mandate will be rescinded and replaced with an advisory consistent with the CDC’s guidance. However, face coverings will continue to be mandatory for all individuals on public and private transportation systems, in healthcare facilities, and in other settings hosting vulnerable populations, such as congregate care settings. With respect to K-12 and Early Education programs, the applicable Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Early Education and Care guidance will be updated to no longer require masks for outdoor activities and to allow for the sharing of objects in classrooms. The Administration is expected to make an announcement concerning summer programs on May 29 with respect to the status of face covering requirements.
Effective May 29, all industries will be permitted to open and industry restrictions will be lifted, meaning capacity will increase to 100% for all industries. The announcement provides that all industries will be encouraged to follow CDC guidance for cleaning and hygiene protocols.
On June 15, the COVID-19 State of Emergency will be lifted in full.
What does this mean for employers?
The Reopening Massachusetts website has been updated to reflect the new timeline for the lifting of industry-specific restrictions, with exceptions for the face-covering mandates applicable to certain industries, as identified above. Effectively, as of May 29, employers in Massachusetts will be able to resume their business operations in the same manner as pre-pandemic conditions, without COVID-19 specific occupancy limits, social distancing, or other COVID-19 specific mandates.
Employers should be aware that the lifting of such restrictions may be subject to local ordinances or mandates. The City of Boston recently announced that it will follow suit with the Commonwealth’s announcement and lift COVID-19 restrictions as of May 29. Prior to lifting restrictions applicable to a business’ workforce and operations, the business should review any ordinances or mandates that may have been issued by the locality in which they operate.
Moreover, after May 29, employers continue to have the authority to enforce COVID-related requirements to the extent they desire to do so, at their option. Deciding whether to continue with any or all previously mandated COVID-related requirements following May 29, will be up to each individual business to decide (subject to the face covering mandates that continue in effect for certain industries) in consideration of their workforce, the population they serve, and CDC guidance.
We will be covering each of these topics and more at our next roundtable, which has been postponed in light of the Governor’s announcement to Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Register by following the link here! If you previously registered for the Roundtable that was scheduled for May 18, you do not need to re-register.
Also, feel free to contact any of our HRW attorneys.