Massachusetts is loosening the criteria for its out-of-state travel rules, amid an increase in COVID-19 levels within its own borders and in several neighboring states.
The state’s Department of Public Health announced Friday that is relaxing one of the metrics it uses to determine which states are classified as “lower risk,” meaning individuals visiting or returning from those states are not required to self-quarantine for two weeks or have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
In a tweet, DPH officials said they were increasing the lower-risk maximum threshold from six daily cases per 100,000 residents to 10 daily cases per 100,000 residents “to bring Massachusetts’s standard more in line with other states.” New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut use the same 10-per-100,000 threshold for their tri-state travel rules.
The other metric used by Massachusetts, a positive test rate below 5 percent, remains unchanged. States must be below both of the thresholds, which are measured on a seven-day rolling average, to be considered lower risk.
After a month of near–weekly changes to the list, DPH officials also announced Friday that they would only move states into the higher-risk category based on two weeks of data, as opposed to one week. However, they said one week will remain the standard for moving states into the lower-risk category. Gov. Charlie Baker has said officials typically review state-by-state COVID-19 data each Wednesday.
One week of data will remain the standard for moving states into the lower-risk category. Additionally, the threshold of cases per 100,000 residents will now be 10 to bring Massachusetts’s standard more in line with other states. Learn more at https://t.co/A3A2CeAiV0. pic.twitter.com/pE7zP9DaPa
— Mass. Public Health (@MassDPH) October 16, 2020
The new changes, which take effect Saturday, come after Massachusetts itself, along with several neighboring states, saw COVID-19 incidence rates rise above its own accepted lower-risk threshold of six cases per 100,000 residents.
According to the COVID-19 tracking website used by DPH, as of Friday, the Bay State had a coronavirus rate of 9.5 cases per 100,000 and has been over the six-per-100,000 threshold for about two weeks.
Amid the recent uptick, Baker said Tuesday there was “no question that there will be more cases this fall” as the weather turns colder and Massachusetts ramps up its testing capacity. But he said the previously hard-hit state was more prepared to deal with the disease than it was in the spring and urged residents to remain vigilant.
New York and Connecticut also have seen COVID-19 incidence rates surpass the previous lower-risk threshold, though the positive test rates in all three states have remained close to 1 percent.
The new criteria also means that New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington state will be re-added to the list of lower-risk states on Saturday. And for the first time, the country’s most populated state, California, will also be designated as lower risk, as DPH announced Friday.
Those states join New York and Washington, D.C., as well as all of New England except Rhode Island, on the lower-risk list.
Individuals visiting or returning to Massachusetts from the other 40 states are required to complete a travel form and either quarantine for 14 days or be able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was administered up to 72 hours prior to their arrival. Violators could be hit with a fine of $500 a day. However, there are exceptions for travelers from higher-risk states who are only passing through Massachusetts, as well as other types of essential cross-border trips, such as commuting to work, visiting for medical care or groceries, or caring for a family member.
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