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No New Mask Guidance for Boston, or Vaccine Mandate for City Workers

NBC Boston logo NBC Boston 7/29/2021 Staff and wire reports
a man wearing a suit and tie: Boston, MA – May 27: Acting Mayor Kim Janey is joined speaks in the Boston Police Headquarters media room in Boston on May 27, 2021. They discussed the citys Summer Safety Plan. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) © Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston, MA – May 27: Acting Mayor Kim Janey is joined speaks in the Boston Police Headquarters media room in Boston on May 27, 2021. They discussed the citys Summer Safety Plan. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston may soon institute a coronavirus vaccine mandate for city workers -- Mayor Kim Janey said she's "leaning toward" one -- but she didn't commit to that during a news conference Thursday.

Nor did she implement new mask rules for the city, despite rising COVID metrics.

Instead, she encouraged mask use for everyone, days after federal health officials issued new guidance recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings for much of the country, including in Boston's Suffolk County.

"Many of us feel ready to move on from the pandemic, but let me be clear, the pandemic is not over. We are still living with COVID-19," Janey said at City Hall.

As for city workers, she said the goal is to get all of those vaccinated who can be.

"We are working toward getting every single city employee vaccinated. That has always been our goal, and we are leaning toward a mandate," Janey said, adding that the city is working with workers and being thoughtful about it.

Janey noted that, while two thirds of city residents have goten at least one shot of the vaccine, COVID metrics are rising, with the average test positivity rate at the same place where it was, at 2.7%, when she reopened the city in May.

The number of people testing positive has multiplied -- in the two weeks leading to this Tuesday, there were 704 new cases, up from 147 cases in the two weeks before that, Janey reported. She also said that the number of COVID hospitalizations and hospital occupancy have risen in recent weeks.

"All of our tracking metrics remain below threshold levels and well below the peak of 2020, but they are increasing," Janey said.

The city is among the areas in Massachusetts where federal health officials are now recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings. Suffolk County is one of five counties considered areas of substantial transmission under the CDC's new COVID guidelines, though Barnstable County is the only one of them with high transmission.

Asked Wednesday about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's announcement on indoor mask use in places with high COVID transmission rates, Gov. Charlie Baker said he and his administration are reviewing the guidelines and will have more information later.

He said he was "considering" a mask mandate in schools — which the CDC recommended Tuesday and which scores of medical experts and professionals requested later that day — but ruled out immediately "instituting any travel restrictions," when asked about the COVID cluster in Provincetown that's now grown past 830 people, and which has prompted a mask mandate in the Cape Cod tourist destination.

Baker noted that the CDC makes recommendations for the country at large, while Massachusetts is in one of the best positions of any state in the nation.

Rates of COVID are rising in Massachusetts, though much more slowly than around the country, as the more transmissible delta variant takes hold.

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