Governor Charlie Baker announced a series of executive orders Monday to mitigate the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, including a stricter mask mandate, lower limits on gatherings, a business curfew, and an updated stay-at-home advisory.
A poll with over 12,000 responses shows that the restrictions, which go into effect Friday, are controversial among Boston.com readers. The mask mandate and updated limits on gatherings both drew a near-perfect 50/50 split in approval, but readers are more critical of the business curfew and stay-at-home advisory. Over 60% disagreed with those two orders.
The results include reader responses from Monday night through Wednesday afternoon. Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Readers are split on the mask-wearing mandate
Massachusetts already has a mask order from the spring, which requires residents to cover their faces in public when they can’t socially distance. The new mandate tightens that order, stating that residents over the age of 5 should wear a mask in public regardless of distance, with a potential fine of $300.
The mandate has evenly split approval, with 50% of readers agreeing and 50% disagreeing. Many who disagreed wrote that while they accept wearing a mask indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces, they are skeptical of the efficacy of covering one’s face in public with no one around. Here’s a selection of reader responses:
“Requiring masks outside is like requiring seatbelts on couches. It probably doesn’t hurt anything, but it doesn’t make much sense either.”
“WEAR A MASK, PEOPLE!”
“Contact tracing suggests that private parties are the major source of infection. People living in crowded residences are probably an even greater source that nobody talks about. A more effective mandate would focus on masks in private indoor spaces where the number of occupants is greater than the number of rooms. As a counterbalance to this, people should be encouraged to spend more time outdoors where a mask isn’t needed as long as distance is maintained.”
“There are the cities and then there’s everywhere else in this state. I go on walks 40 miles from the city where I don’t see another human for 30 minutes. I will not be following this mandate in all scenarios. I will be using my judgment and wearing a mask in densely populated areas. I will not wear one walking, playing golf, sitting in a park, etc.”
“While I agree with the mask mandate and the wording, I think some nuance should be involved. For example, when hiking in the woods at a public park, should a person really have to wear a mask the whole time, or just when they encounter others. In open air with people socially distanced there are very few reports of infection.”
“The mask order should have been in place months ago.”
“The governor has made a serious error in not providing an exemption for those who cope by running or other intense cardio exercise outdoors and absolutely cannot wear [a] mask when doing so. I maintain a substantial distance from others when exercising outdoors and the governor has just taken away my principal coping mechanism. At the same time, gyms are still open indoors, which is dangerous, and people can still eat indoors in restaurants.”
Slightly over half of readers approve of new limit on gatherings
Limits on private gatherings in Massachusetts have fluctuated over the course of the pandemic. The limit for outdoor gatherings will go from 50 to 25 people, and indoor gatherings will decrease from 25 to 10. The limit on gatherings in event venues and public spaces will stay the same as before. Fines go up to $500 per person over the limit.
Just over half of Boston.com readers gave the OK to the tighter limits on gatherings. Even though it holds only a very slight advantage, it’s still the only new policy where more readers approved than disapproved. Few readers gave additional thoughts on the limits, but some who did worried that limiting family gatherings in the holiday season wouldn’t counteract crowded house parties, like those on Halloween.
Most disagree with the new business curfew
The new business curfew order requires some businesses like theaters, salons, gyms, and casinos to close by 9:30 p.m. Table service at restaurants and alcohol sales also have to stop at 9:30, but restaurants and grocery stores can stay open later for other services. The curfew corresponds with the updated capacity limits, which also asks gatherings to disperse by 9:30.
The curfew proved to be the most controversial of Gov. Baker’s new orders, with nearly two-thirds of readers disagreeing with it. For some readers, the curfew seems ineffective at best. Others worried that it would hurt already struggling restaurants. Here’s what some readers had to say:
“I think indoor dining needs to be canceled entirely. Shortening the hours isn’t going to solve the issue.”
“I think closing businesses at 9:30pm is too early. We need these restaurants to survive. I think 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. would be more reasonable. I think this may lead to more house gatherings in potentially smaller spaces.”
“I am so depressed by this. My business is dying and no one can help me. I just don’t know what to do anymore…I can’t understand why they would restrict restaurants 48 hours after saying few clusters were linked to them. It makes it hard to believe this is based in science as opposed to a knee jerk political reaction.”
“The lieutenant governor came on live TV yesterday and stated that ‘restaurants are not linked to COVID outbreaks,’ but yet the mandates directly effect us more than any other. Our capacities have already been restricted to satisfy social distancing guidelines. Those fortunate enough to stay above water will now be drowning. We have seen enough businesses close their doors for good. When is enough enough?”
“Too much. I don’t own a restaurant but they’re already on the ropes. I seriously don’t think a couple of hours at night will stave the rising numbers but will surely help to kill that industry.”
“I’m very much in favor of increased restrictions. However, the responsibility ends up falling on the business to ‘enforce’ them. I think it’s going to be strenuous on the restaurant industry and ultimately they’re being set up for failure.”
“The curfew seems arbitrary and favors morning birds. It’s not like you’re more likely to catch COVID at night. It seems it would be better for businesses to operate longer at lower capacity and be stricter on gathering sizes.”
“I can understand bars and restaurants, but if they’re allowed to do takeout after that time, I should be able to buy a bottle of wine after a long hard day of working on the frontline. Not everybody else works at home, and not everyone who goes to the liquor store is a college student partygoer.”
Majority disagree with the stay-at-home advisory
Finally, there’s the reintroduced stay-at-home advisory, which aligned with the 9:30 closing deadline for businesses and gatherings. It asks residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they’re working or running important errands. Like before, it’s not a formal curfew, and there won’t be any fines.
The advisory isn’t popular among readers, with just over 60% disapproving of it. The measure didn’t draw as strong of a response as the business curfew—after all, it’s non-enforceable—but some of those who disagreed wrote that they found the timing arbitrary. One reader asked, “Does COVID have a bedtime?”
Some readers are happy with the restrictions. Others want to go even further.
Though many readers shared their displeasure with the state’s new regulations, finding them arbitrary and overly restrictive, plenty were satisfied with them. Several readers were unhappy, but because they thought the state should go even further in locking back down and helping out its residents as the case count surges to its highest point since May. Here’s one last sampling reader replies:
“It’s imperative we start getting this under control regardless of how ‘tired’ we are of the pandemic. We’ve had an administration that has botched its response and we are all paying the price.”
“Unemployment benefits need to be extended ASAP. Mine has already run out, which is heartbreaking and frustrating. Both myself and my elderly mother-in-law who I reside with are high risk. I can’t afford to take a job that places my or her health at risk at this time.”
“Governor Baker has kept us safe, and I have faith that he has consulted medical and scientific experts when making his decision. His communication has been excellent.”
“Baker needs to take this seriously this time and make Massachusetts a leader. Shut down completely. Support residents and businesses during the shutdown so they CAN stay home. Reduce gathering sizes. Curfews make no difference. Shut everything down and do it right this time. Respect our medical professionals. Do it right so we can get out of this. Stop walking in the middle and be a leader.”
“If we can’t be real about this and face it head on, and close the schools until we contain the spread, we are never going to get out of the pandemic.”
“I think that there should be more stringent regulations and that they should be regulations rather than just recommendations. It is this aspect of Governor Baker’s Republicanism with which I cannot agree, although he is in general a very fine governor.”
“These are perfectly acceptable steps. Had people just followed instructions back in March we wouldn’t be here today. On the other hand, perhaps this is a bit much—after all, the White House said COVID was over last week!”
“Sensible and reasonable. People who oppose are under an illusion of false freedom. I would rather be safe with restrictions than die of complications under the guise of freedom.”
“In my opinion, these new restrictions don’t go far enough. Time to close gyms, indoor dining, movie theaters, etc. It’s time to get serious about preventing unnecessary deaths.”
“Steps should have been taken sooner before the numbers got this bad again. Hopefully our healthcare system will not be overwhelmed again. My sister, a nurse manager, was in COVID ICUs from early March through the end of June, many days working double shifts, with inadequate PPEs, leading distraught healthcare professionals, in one of Boston’s major hospitals. She and her coworkers are dreading this surge—it has caused many personnel to leave and others are so traumatized. Please wear a mask and do the right thing.”
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