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Massachusetts relaxes outdoor mask mandate as pandemic eases

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts residents who are able to socially distance from others no longer have to wear a mask outdoors.

Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this week announced that the state was relaxing the outdoor mask mandate as of Friday as the numbers of hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in the state — and the number of people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus continues to climb.

Masks will only be required outside in public when it’s not possible to maintain a distance of approximately 6 feet (2 meters) from others — or when required for other reasons, including at outdoor events.

Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places, including stores. Store owners can still refuse entry to any customer who refuses to put on a mask.

Face coverings will also continue to be required at all times at events, whether held indoors or outdoors and whether held in a public space or private home, except when eating or drinking.

At smaller gatherings in private homes, face coverings are recommended but not required.

The $300 fine that had been put in place as an enforcement mechanism, but was rarely used, will also be eliminated.

In other pandemic-related news from Massachusetts:

SUMMER EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Massachusetts is pouring $70 million into summer educational programs to benefit students who have fallen behind academically and socially while learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday.

“Studies continue to show that amid the school closures, many students did miss out on some fundamental issues around math and reading,” the Republican governor said after touring a Canton middle school.

The programs designed for every grade level — including high school seniors graduating this spring — will feature a mix of academic and recreational opportunities at schools, after-school providers, community colleges and recreation sites, he said.

Many students were out of school for longer than a year during the pandemic, and some high school students continue to learn remotely.

The programs include so-called Acceleration Academies, which will offer intensive instruction in one subject with smaller classes, longer instructional blocks, and individualized attention.

Under the Summer Acceleration to College program, Class of 2021 high school graduates will be able to take math and English courses for credit at no cost at 14 community colleges.

Another program is aimed at incoming kindergartners.

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FEWER HIGH-RISK COMMUNITIES

The number of Massachusetts cities and towns considered at high risk for COVID-19 transmission has fallen for the third consecutive week, according to the state Department of Public Health.

There are 26 communities at high-risk this week, down from 48 last week and 59 two weeks ago, the department reported Thursday.

The number of cities and towns in the so-called “red zone” peaked at 229 in mid-January. The state has 351 distinct municipalities.

The red-zone communities are concentrated in the Springfield area, the Merrimack Valley and southeastern Massachusetts.

Larger communities are designated high risk if they have an average of more than 10 cases per 100,000 residents and a positive test rate greater than or at 4% during a given week.

Cities and towns with 10,000 to 50,000 residents are categorized as high risk if they average more than 10 cases per 100,000 people and have a positive test rate of 5% or higher. If communities with fewer than 10,000 residents have more than 25 cases, they are considered high risk.

As of Thursday, about 2.5 million people in Massachusetts had been fully vaccinated.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by about 1,200 Friday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 16.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,259 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to about 646,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were about 560 people reported hospitalized Friday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 150 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 61. There were an estimated 25,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

More than 6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 3.5 million first doses and more than 2.3 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

There have been about 208,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered.

Nearly 2.5 million people have been fully immunized.

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FREE PIE WITH SHOT

A Massachusetts bakery is offering a sweet treat to anyone who can prove they have received a coronavirus vaccine.

Table Talk Pies is offering a free 4-inch snack pie to customers only at their Worcester retail store who can show their vaccination cards to prove they have received at least one shot.

The offer is good for the foreseeable future, the company said

(Copyright (c) 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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