Politics

Charlie Baker says Barack Obama’s big 60th birthday party on Martha’s Vineyard is ‘not a good idea’

"I think 700 people at an event like that is not a good idea."

Sam Doran
Gov. Charlie Baker. Globe file photo

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says he didn’t get an invitation to former president Barack Obama’s celebrity-studded 60th birthday party on Martha’s Vineyard this weekend.

But if he did, the Republican governor says he “would have declined,” citing reservations about the party — which will reportedly include close to 700 guests and staff — amid concerns about the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

“I think 700 people at an event like that is not a good idea,” Baker — who lifted all gathering limits and other COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts in May — told reporters Tuesday afternoon in Revere.

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While he acknowledged that the party at the Obamas’ house in Edgartown is being held outdoors where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lowest, Baker characterized the decision as a “judgment call” he would not have made.

“That’s the beauty of judgment calls,” he said. “We can all make our own decision about what we think is most appropriate to us. If I were to have a large family gathering outside at my house, that family gathering would involve at least one person who’s over the age of 90. That would be my father. When I visited this weekend, I wore a mask the entire time I was with him.”

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Baker went on to note how people with underlying health conditions and those over the age of 75 are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Even if you are vaccinated, among some of those more vulnerable populations, we should all be very careful,” he said. “And by the way, nobody’s going to know who’s vaccinated and who’s not at that, I think, based on what I’ve heard.”

Axios reported earlier this week that all guests to Obama’s party have been asked to be vaccinated and invitees also must provide their negative COVID-19 test results from within a certain time period before the event.

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The party does not appear to run afoul of any state or federal guidelines. Massachusetts has allowed indoor nightclubs and sports stadiums with tens of thousands of spectators to operate at 100 percent capacity with no mask requirements since May 29 (unvaccinated people are asked to voluntarily mask up).

But with recent evidence suggesting that even vaccinated individuals can spread the Delta variant (even if such cases are rare and most cases of severe illness due to COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated), some top health officials have opined against holding large gatherings. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also revised its mask guidelines to recommend everyone, even vaccinated individuals, wear face coverings indoors in counties with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

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Massachusetts opted to not follow the CDC guidelines; instead, the Baker administration released guidance last Friday recommending that vaccinated individuals only need to wear face coverings indoors if they have an underlying health condition, are elderly, or live with someone who has a health condition, is elderly, or is unvaccinated.

Earlier during the press conference Tuesday afternoon, Baker defended the decision, arguing that the CDC guidelines were hard to follow and didn’t make sense for Massachusetts, given the state’s relatively low COVID-19 levels and high vaccination rates.

“It’s very difficult for me, as the governor of the commonwealth, where 80 percent of adults have at least one dose and more than 70 percent of our population is fully vaccinated, to think about national guidance that’s very appropriate for certain parts of the country, and apply that the same way here,” Baker said.

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“We’re in a very different place than other parts of the country are in,” he continued. “I think our guidance, which really focused on vulnerable populations and people who are most at risk, was the right way to go, and I don’t think a county based approach, at this point in time, makes a lot of sense.”

According to the CDC’s website, 12 of the 14 counties in Massachusetts are currently seeing “substantial” or “high” transmission levels, at which the federal health agency recommends everyone wear masks indoors. Dukes County, which comprises Martha’s Vineyard, is one of them.

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