Restrictions have been lifted across the state. Does this mean we can party like it’s 2019 in restaurants and bars? Perhaps not just yet.
Well, we did it. After more than a year of pain, heartbreak, hopelessness, caution, fear, anger, and all other kinds of emotions due to the pandemic, Boston and the rest of Massachusetts have officially entered the “new normal” era, with nearly all restrictions being lifted including the end of social distancing and masks indoors at restaurants if you’re vaccinated, capacity and time restrictions being lifted, the ability to drink at a bar without having to get food, and more.
So does this mean that you should get sloppy drunk in a packed-to-the-gills watering hole on a Saturday night and hug and kiss everyone in sight?
But you can, which is where the concern begins. Sure, many dining and drinking spots in the local area continue to have varying degrees of social distancing practices and mask mandates (hint: keep a mask with you just in case) while other places do not, but are generally seen as safe because of such things as well-spaced tables, generally quiet atmospheres, and less of a focus on drinking than dining.
Still, you know that there are restaurants and bars out there that, at 12:01 AM on May 29 tossed out all the masks, pulled down the plexiglass, opened back up at 100% capacity and then some, and went from ghost towns to the wild west in the blink of an eye.
Now for those who are vaccinated, this is perhaps not a huge issue, but some serious dangers do still exist, and the Baker administration is well aware of this so they’ll undoubtedly be keeping a wary eye on the numbers over the coming days and weeks.
A statement commonly heard—especially by those who have wanted everything to be fully open since the early days of the pandemic—is, If you’re scared of catching the virus, stay home. Very few people have completely stayed at home during the pandemic, of course, but the gist of this statement implies that you and your loved ones have little to fear if you don’t go to high-risk places. The problem is, unless you completely avoid people, you’ll certainly end up being around those who have the virus, and while those who have gotten their shots don’t have to worry much about this anymore, consider the following scenario:
A couple of unvaccinated people go to a neighborhood joint that’s jammed with others standing around shoulder to shoulder, and the bar is filled with unmasked patrons who haven’t gotten the vaccine. Everyone goes home at the end of the night and the two friends go to work the next day—one being a plumber who fixes the sink of a person who hasn’t gotten the shots because of serious allergies, and the other being a delivery person who brings a new refrigerator into the home of an elderly person who hasn’t been vaccinated because they have a compromised immune system. Because the bar and the two homes basically form their own little microsystem that’s an awful lot like the pre-vaccine days, the dangers may be every bit as bad as those encountered last spring or over the past winter and could lead to a mini-surge within the unvaccinated community, including those who continue to stay at home along with the not-insubstantial amount of people who are still waiting to get their shots.
The May 29 lifting of restrictions includes a lot of details, some of which are buried under the flashier parts, such as vaccinated people no longer having to wear masks, or socially distancing inside restaurants and bars.
But the update also advises people who have not gotten their shots to continue wearing masks and to stay six-feet away from people. Also, short of patrons having to show their vaccine cards (and yes, some restaurants, bars, and clubs are indeed doing this), there is simply no way to enforce this—and in the case of a rowdy neighborhood bar, it’s possible that no one even cares all that much because it’s all about getting together with friends and locals once again after more than a year of isolation.
As a result, the lifting of restrictions may be our biggest test yet, as it’s yet another race against time—in this case, getting those who are still waiting for their shots to get them as soon as possible while somehow convincing those with allergies and/or immune issues to get vaccinated immediately as well, which will lessen the concerns of being near those who simply don’t want their shots for whatever reasons, be it political or religious views, the belief that this is simply “the flu” (it isn’t), or not trusting—or understanding—science.
As of this writing, nearly 70% of Massachusetts residents have gotten at least one shot, so we are getting awfully close to reaching herd immunity, which means that holding off on partying at a bar with throngs of others or being crammed into a tiny club for just a few more weeks isn’t the worst of ideas—especially if you’re still waiting for the vaccine—while going out to eat at a restaurant or hitting slightly more mellow bars (especially those with big windows that open up) is fine for those who have gotten their shots and ok for those who haven’t, as long as masks are worn until seated and the spacing between tables is decent.
We’ve come so far since March of 2021 and most dining and drinking spots are now making up for lost time, so it’d be a shame to screw it all up this late in the game.