BOSTON — The state is welcoming travelers from surrounding states that have controlled the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Beginning July 1, travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York or New Jersey will not be expected to abide by the 14-day self-quarantine advisory put in place more than two months ago.
However, those arriving from other areas — including residents returning home to Massachusetts from them — are still being asked to continue the two-week isolation period.
Gov. Charlie Baker said at Tuesday's COVID-19 update that lifting these restrictions is based on data showing that these states have been successful in containing the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
"These surrounding states, like Massachusetts, are seeing a significant decline in cases and new hospitalizations," he said, later adding that "given the facts on the ground ... the states that basically surround us here in the Northeast, all of which have had very positive trends for the past several weeks, people in those places should be allowed to come to Massachusetts, without having to live up to that 14-day quarantine."
Massachusetts is still in Phase 2 of reopening, with limited indoor dining allowed and some personal services being allowed. Businesses have been able to reopen with guidelines of limited capacity, use of face coverings, and proper sanitation, and hotels were able to open beginning June 8. With the July 4 holiday this weekend, the governor said the expectation is that people will want to do some traveling.
"Everybody should continue to be vigilant in their daily activities and if they travel as we approach the Fourth of July weekend, they should be especially careful," he said.
The state has continued on trend with declining averages of confirmed COVID-19 cases and, as the governor pointed, on June 22 was ranked as having the lowest transmission rate in the country by a group that monitors state data. There are still more than 700 hospitalizations statewide but only two hospitals are still using surge capacity.
"This would not have been possible without everybody playing their part, individuals and families, follow the medical guidance by practicing good hygiene, social distancing, wearing face coverings, and staying home if they're sick," he said. "It's working for us, but we clearly need to stay on our game."
The governor said he would hope anyone traveling out of Massachusetts would be checking the guidelines for their destination and be considering states that have current positive trends, like in the Northeast.
The new guidelines also apply to workers designated as "essential" by the federal government. Those who may be displaying symptoms related to COVID-19 are asked not to travel to the state.
Baker said he was making this decision based on the data that has shown a dramatic drop in the percentage of positive cases and the implementation of the "robust testing" and tracing collaborative.
"I think the point we tried to make with this was to point out the fact that the states directly around us here in the Northeast all have very positive trends with respect to penetration generally, and have done many of the same things that we've done to put themselves and their populations in that position," he said. "We felt it was appropriate at this time to basically take the quarantine off for those states that are referenced there."
The news is good for the Berkshires, which is heavily dependent on tourism even though many of the summer attractions like Tanglewood and Williamstown Theater Festival have canceled performances. Museums will be opening up to limited access with many already opening up their grounds for walking and picnicking. State parks are reopened and trails and other outdoors amenities are available.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the Department of Public Health will be issuing a letter of guidance to municipalities related to observances over the Fourth of July weekend and that will recognize the efforts of local boards of health.
"Essential to our reopening progress has been our local boards of health and their efforts," she said. "From the earliest days of the response, the local public health workforce has been essential in educating the public about the risks and symptoms of the virus, as well as ways to prevent it."
Sudders noted that $9 million has been provided directly to local boards of health and that last week another $156,000, or total of $500,000, was announced to help local municipalities to share public health resources more effectively and efficiently.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito also announced a new rental program of $20 million. The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program is comprised of federal funding, in part through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to expand emergency housing resources.
"The goal here is simple: provide housing stability," she said. "If you are a low-income household, that is facing financial hardship related to or exacerbated by COVID-19, starting tomorrow, you will be able to apply for help with your rent or your mortgage."
Eligible families can apply through the 11 regional Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, or RAFT, administrating agencies. The fund is in addition to a number of housing assistance programs, including an amended $275 million housing and economic bill refiled on Friday.
"The funding we're making available is important in the short term, but we know there was a housing crisis in Massachusetts before COVID-19," Polito said. "We cannot address the housing issues of 2020 without the restrictive housing laws changed, that are on our books today."
In answer to questions, the governor again commended the residents of Massachusetts for doing their part in containing the disease by wearing masks and social distancing. He pointed to the spikes in cases occurring in other states as a warning to "respect the virus" and to be cautious on reopening steps.
"As I said before, COVID-19 will not be taking a summer vacation, and the way we deal with it should continue to factor into our daily decision making," Baker said. "And as we've all seen several other states are seeing a sharp increases in new cases and hospitalizations, which is a very real reminder to all of us about just how contagious this virus can be.