SALEM, MA — Gov. Charlie Baker praised the city's mask-wearing compliance as a means to dramatically lower coronavirus test numbers in recent weeks, while transforming businesses, during a stop Tuesday to announce additional Safe Streets & Spaces grants aimed at helping Salem and other communities improve transportation and keep commerce outside as the weather gets cold.
Salem has received two of the grants as it looks into creative ways to support businesses and facilitate transportation amid the ongoing coronavirus health crisis, and beyond.
"This is going to help our economy, help people get around in safe ways and with their mental health," Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said at a news conference with Baker to talk about Halloween and the grants at the Olde Main Street Pub. "People feel safer outside. We are hoping to have these spaces active into the winter."
Driscoll added that some of the programs put in place could remain there after there is a vaccine and pandemic fears subside.
"We've had people comment that they feel like they are in Europe," Driscoll said of the outdoor dining and coffee shops.
Baker praised the city's embrace of mask wearing and testing to help lower test-positive numbers that had Salem as a "red" hot spot community in August on the state's interactive map. Salem was on the cusp of becoming a "green" safe community — with less than 4.0 cases per 100,000 residents — before numbers ticked up last week.
"The first thing I would say as someone who has been over in Salem on a number of occasions in the fall walking around with my family and the mayor has done a fantastic job with messaging and softly enforcing mandates," Baker said.
Baker credited the city with being the blueprint for face mask messaging and signage — which Salem had in place in May — for other communities battling surges.
"We stole this idea," Baker said. "You've got to start with messaging and make it clear to people you are going to be wearing a mask, social distancing, if you are in this part of town. And they've done a good job with it."
Driscoll said the "mask ambassadors" have had 95 percent compliance with mask-wearing downtown in recent weeks. Those who are not wearing masks — or not wearing them properly — are asked to put them on or are given masks if they don't have one.
"For the most part it's really strong compliance," she said. "The nice part is it a neighbor (advising it). It's not an armed individual."
Driscoll said those who claim they cannot wear a mask due to health reasons are given an allowance, and that some of the five percent of non-compliance is "a political decision."
"If we're getting 95 percent compliance by educating people through the ambassadors that's pretty good," Driscoll said.
More Salem Patch Coverage: Message To Salem Halloween Visitors: Maybe Wait Until Next Year
State Police Airwing Asked To Monitor Salem Halloween Crowds
Salem To Keep Strict Coronavirus Restrictions Through Halloween
Salem's Halloween Balance: Support Business, Keep Down Crowds State Says Most Communities Can Move Ahead With Further Reopening
Salem To Issue Temporary Residential Parking Permits