Coronavirus

Boston’s new indoor mask mandate takes effect Friday. Here’s where it does — and doesn’t — apply.

The order is similar to previous mask mandates, but includes a few key quirks.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey put her mask back on after holding a press conference at Boston CIty Hall. Christiana Botic / The Boston Globe

Whether it’s a gym, museum, restaurant, or nightclub, Boston residents will be required to wear a mask in indoor public places beginning this Friday at 8 a.m.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced plans to reimpose an indoor mask mandate last week, due to the rebound in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. While she stressed getting the COVID-19 vaccine remains the most effective protection against the virus, Janey said the order was a “proactive step” ahead of the return of tens of thousands of students and office workers to Boston over the next month.

“We know that there is going to be an influx of people into our city and more folks interacting with each other, and therefore we must protect ourselves and slow the spread by wearing masks,” Janey said.

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The order is similar, but not identical, to previous local mask mandates.

Here’s what you need to know about when and where you’ll be expected to wear a face covering.

Who does the indoor mask mandate apply to?

All individuals over the age of 2. That includes both staff and visitors at indoor establishments, regardless of their vaccination status.

However, there are exemptions for anyone who has trouble breathing; anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance; or anyone can’t wear a mask due to a disability.

Does it apply to any outdoor areas?

No. Unlike the most recent (and since repealed) statewide mask mandate, Boston’s order does not apply outside, even if you can’t consistently socially distance.

What is an indoor public setting?

The mandate covers most indoor buildings and businesses that are open to the public. Officials specifically list:

  • restaurants, bars, and clubs
  • stores
  • gyms and indoor fitness centers
  • performances spaces and theaters
  • museums
  • cultural and historical sites
  • municipal buildings like schools, libraries, youth centers, and City Hall (in which masks were already required)
  • public transit
  • hotels
  • shelters
  • event spaces

What about private events?

It depends.

The mask mandate does apply to private, invite-only events, like weddings, at indoor spaces that open to the public, such as hotel ballrooms, social clubs, and convention centers.

However, it does not apply to events or parties at private residences, in which the owner is not being paid for the use of the property.

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What if it’s a private event in a tent?

The mandate does not apply to tents and other temporary outdoor structures, as long as one side of the structure is completely open. If more than three sides of a tent has its flaps down, the mandate applies.

Are there public indoor settings in which I can remove my mask?

Yes.

Boston’s indoor mask mandate includes exemptions for places of worship like churches, temples, and synagogues — though Janey’s administration “strongly” encourages faith communities to wear masks indoors.

The mandate also does not apply to businesses that are not open to the public. In other words, employees at offices or facilities that are not public-facing can remove their masks, if company policy allows.

Are there times when I can remove my mask within the public settings that the mandate does cover?

Yes. Similar to the previous statewide mask mandate, Boston’s mandate allows people to remove their face coverings when “actively eating or drinking.”

How does this work with bars and nightclubs fully open?

Unlike the last time there was a mask mandate in Boston, there are no other seating or capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, clubs, or event spaces.

According to Boston’s new mandate, patrons must wear masks while standing or ordering at a bar. They also must be masked while on indoor dance floors.

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Some have raised questions about how exactly the requirement will be enforced, especially when alcohol is a factor.

How will the mandate be enforced?

Janey told reporters last week that fines “may be part of it,” but that the mandate will be primarily enforced by the city’s Licensing Board. According to the city’s website, Licensing Board officials are working to educate businesses about the mandate.

“All reasonable efforts will be made to secure voluntary compliance with this Order, however this Order may be enforced through an order of a court of competent jurisdiction,” the official mandate issued by the Boston Public Health Commission reads, noting that the BPHC’s executive director may seek assistance from other city agencies in ensuring compliance.

How does this apply to indoor performances and live music?

The mandate does allow musical and other live performers to remove their masks while performing, as long as they’re at least six feet away from the nearest customer or attendee.

Performers participating in rehearsals or live-streaming performances without an audience are also not subject to the mask mandate.

How long will the mask mandate be in effect?

It depends on COVID-19 transmission rates.

“This mandate will remain in place until we see a consistent downtrend in the City’s health data and community transmission levels are downgraded,” the city’s website says.

A spokesperson for Janey said the city “will continue to make decisions informed by data, including the Boston Public Health Commission COVID-19 core metrics [such as positive tests and hospitalization rates] and a general downtrend in new case-related data and community transmission levels.”

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The city’s website notes that the mandate was also informed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommending that everyone in Suffolk County wear a mask indoors due to high COVID-19 transmission rates.

The CDC recommends that even vaccinated individuals should wear masks in indoor public settings in counties with that have reported more than 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 individuals in the past week or are averaging a positive test rate above 8 percent.

While Boston had just a 2.3 percent positive test rate as of Sunday, the city’s community transmission rate is well over the CDC’s threshold. According to the CDC, from last Wednesday to this Tuesday, the city reported 136.21 cases per 100,000 residents, putting Boston in the “high” community transmission range.

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