Citing the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, Acting Mayor Kim Janey is implementing a new mask mandate for indoor public spaces.
The mask mandate goes into effect at 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 27.
Janey noted that the city is expected to see an influx of 50,000 college students from around the world this fall, as well as 50,000 public school students who are not yet eligible for a vaccine. Some workers are also expected to return to their downtown offices, she said.
"Masks work best when everyone wears them," Janey said.
Janey did not rule out fines for noncompliance with the mask mandate, which covers retail establishments, restaurants, bars, performance venues, social clubs, gyms, and event spaces. She said it would be up to city officials, like the licensing board, to work that out.
Masks are not necessary when people are eating or drinking, according to the Janey administration. The mandate does not apply to private buildings inaccessible to the public, places of worship and performers who maintain six feet of distance from the audience.
The latest mask mandate came after Janey drew criticism from her campaign trail rivals and the head of the City Council, Matt O’Malley.
A mask mandate for schools and city buildings is already in place. A vaccine mandate, or regular testing, is being phased in for city workers, a move that also came after calls from other mayoral candidates, including City Councillors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu.
O’Malley on Wednesday ripped Janey for claiming Boston is “leading” on pandemic-driven issues. “That’s simply not true,” O’Malley said, voicing support for an indoor mask mandate and a requirement for proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor venues.
"Nobody wants to be overly punitive but the times demand it,” said O’Malley, who took over as City Council president when Janey took the acting mayor job. Marty Walsh resigned as mayor in March to become President Biden’s labor secretary.
Janey has repeatedly rebuffed calls for a proof-of-vaccination requirement, also known as a vaccine passport, invoking slavery and Donald Trump's efforts to undermine President Obama with demands to see his birth certificate. Campbell and Wu have both called for the implementation of a vaccine passport, similar to what New York is phasing in, and said Janey was undermining trust in vaccines with her comments.
On Friday, Boston Medical Center’s president and CEO praised Janey’s latest mask mandate. “We all have a responsibility to do everything we can to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infections while continuing to encourage everyone to get the vaccine, including those 12 and older who will be going back to school soon,” said Kate Walsh.
The press release announcing the new mask mandate also included a supportive note from the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, the hospitality workers union.
"The members of Local 26 applaud Mayor Janey’s implementation of a mask mandate for indoor spaces,” Carlos Aramayo, the union president, said in a statement. “This will ensure that hospitality workers are safe at work and our industry can continue its recovery.”
The union has endorsed Janey’s bid for a full four-year term, and its super PAC has paid for canvassers and fliers to bolster her mayoral campaign.