Governor Charlie Baker instituted the new rules by executive order on Friday.
“Over the past 15 months, the people of Massachusetts have demonstrated incredible strength and resilience, and we are delighted to take this step forward towards a return to normalcy,” Baker said in a statement. of Friday.
Fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks in most settings or to practice social distancing, under the new rules. And organizers of large outdoor gatherings, along with restaurants and other businesses, can end capacity restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, although businesses can also keep the restrictions in place.
Some rules remain in place, including mask requirements on buses, trains, planes and in healthcare facilities. The state recommends that people not fully vaccinated continue to wear masks and remain socially distant in public.
The restrictions were lifted as the daily average of new cases in Massachusetts fell to unreported levels since September, while the average number of daily deaths fell to May 7 through May 27, according to the latest data available from the state. .
The state reported on Friday that nearly 3.6 million people had been fully vaccinated – more than half of the state’s population. Baker’s decree called for the state of emergency declared on March 10, 2020 to expire on June 15.
Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist at Northeastern University, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that the state had made significant progress on immunization. But he remains concerned about the threat posed by more infectious coronavirus variants, particularly one recently identified in India.
Unvaccinated people in Massachusetts will be at high risk, he said, as will any communities with vaccination rates below the state average. The state must continue its vaccination campaign and try to vaccinate 80 to 85% of the population, he said.
“It’s really important that we celebrate what we’ve accomplished, but we’re focused on getting people vaccinated,” Scarpino said.
The relaxed rules are good news for many businesses, including restaurants, according to Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
“People in the restaurant industry certainly feel like we’re going to be able to put this in the rearview mirror from today,” Luz said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “There is a strong and repressed desire out there” among the customers.
What might have been the state’s biggest holiday on Saturday coincided with a weather that looked more like November than at the end of May. By early afternoon, Boston had only reached 50 degrees under gray skies with cold pouring rain.
And it barely appeared that new rules were in effect, with even stores like Trader Joe’s lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated shoppers on May 14, filled with masked employees and customers.
As a client of Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive in Cambridge put it, she will continue to wear her mask until “no one wears a mask” day.
At Quincy Market, well over half of visitors and employees were masked on Saturday morning, and views on the matter varied widely.
A visitor from North Carolina immediately removed his mask from the market after learning it was not needed and announced his intention to only wear it outdoors – due to the weather.
“The only reason I’m wearing this thing is because I have wind burns,” said Michael Hall, 59.
“I think I’ll keep it forever,” Laura Rivas, 24, said of her mask, as she walked down the hallway with a group of visitors who were fully vaccinated and wearing masks from Puerto Rico.
“Mask-achusetts,” Eric Menzel said, poking fun at the high number of people who continue to wear masks in the state. ” I think [mask-wearing] has to do with social shame and norms. This is a typical leader-follower scenario. “
Menzel, who had come from Ohio to celebrate graduating from a Harvard University master’s program even though the school did not offer in-person events, said he had received judgments from wearers of masks for not wearing them.
“You get the weird weird look,” he said, adding that “people without masks feel justified when you see another person” not to wear them.
“I don’t want to be different,” said Mark Lundein, longtime chef-owner of Walrus and Carpenter Oyster Bar in Quincy Market, of his decision to wear a mask, which he half wore on Saturday morning. “I don’t want to make any statement by wearing it or not wearing it. “
Lundein noted that there had been a slight increase in business in the market and said the new rules should help.
“If today was 75 and sunny it would probably be the best day,” he said.
But many have opted for traditional activities on rainy days such as a visit to the museum or the cinema.
At the MFA, almost all clients wore masks, although they are optional. At the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, masks were mandatory and this put some cautious visitors at ease.
“I’m looking forward to a change to get me closer to normal life,” said Michael Short, 81, of Wayland, as he waited for the afternoon screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” his first film at the cinema in a year.
He remains cautious and said he and his son and grandson, who joined him, would likely have take out later on Saturday rather than going unmasked to a restaurant.
Boston University student Naomi Okeke, 17, said the theater mask requirement made her feel comfortable as she went to see her first movie in theaters in a year.
“Americans cannot be trusted with the honor system,” she said. “I am happy to wear a mask for the rest of my life.”
But back at Charlie’s, it was the first time in a long time, an almost normal day.
The hole-in-the-wall seal opened at 7:30 a.m. and reached capacity at 9:30 a.m. with around 30 customers sitting inside, according to Marciante, whose family purchased the South End Pier in 2017.
Waiters were distributing menus to customers lined up at the counter, an unthinkable scene a few months ago, when the restaurant relied primarily on take-out service.
“It’s an amazing feeling, let me tell you,” Marciante said. “It feels so good. “
Jonathan Wiggs, Erin Clark and Jon Chesto of Globe staff contributed to this report.
John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected] Lucas Phillips can be contacted at [email protected]