Update from the Massachusetts License Raj

As in the early decades of Indian independence, all business activity in Massachusetts is forbidden except what is specifically permitted. Our state’s License Raj has released an update: “When can my business reopen?”

Although barbershops can reopen on May 25, flight schools are specifically forbidden from reopening: “TBD – not Phase 1. Comprehensive plan is being developed” (i.e., government officials are spending taxpayer funds on a “comprehensive plan” for an activity in which only a few hundred residents of Massachusetts participate).

The best news for those who are passionate about optimizing health: Medical marijuana shops are still considered “essential” and can conduct business as usual (maybe because stoners are the best at following WHO guidelines regarding proper use of face masks?).

Own a residential summer camp? Your business is finished. We start “Phase 1” on May 25. You’re in “Phase 3,” to which no date is attached. Whale watch boat where all of the tourists are outside in the seabreeze and sun and you can set capacity at any fraction of the Coast Guard max number? You’re done. Phase 3.

The governor and his subordinates did not address the stay-at-home mom’s question that I cut and pasted previously:

What I don’t get: If masks work, why aren’t we back at work? If masks don’t work, why are we being asked to wear them?

23 thoughts on “Update from the Massachusetts License Raj

  1. At least we (kind of) got our 2nd Amendment rights back. Firearm retailers and shooting ranges are listed as Open in Phase 1. I called one of my fave shooting schools and asked: “It’s good that it’s on the list but we have to talk with our lawyers first to make sure.” The last time through this, they were listed as “essential” until a few words were deleted from the list of essential businesses, so everyone is proceeding with caution lest the same thing happen again.

  2. “What I don’t get: If masks work, why aren’t we back at work? If masks don’t work, why are we being asked to wear them?”

    Because risks — and mask effectiveness — are not binary. Masks reduce, but not to zero, the risk of interpersonal transmission. The overall effectiveness of masks is a function of the proportion of wearers.

    As illustrated in this graphic:
    from this article by Bob Wachter, Professor & Chair, Dept of Medicine, UCSF:

  3. Steve: I dug into the paper a little bit from which that figure is excerpted. That’s entirely model-based. Why do we have more faith in this than in the prophets who said that most people in Sweden would be dead by mid-May (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/05/13/the-swedes-actually-did-have-covid-19-models/ and also https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/05/03/doom-for-the-wicked-swedes-is-always-three-weeks-away/ )?

    The figure simply assumes that masks reduce infection rate. The paper doesn’t talk about the possibility of American-style masks (filthy saliva-soaked reused cotton rags) increasing infection the infection rate. One could just as easily produce a nice-looking figure starting from the “filthy reused rags increase transmission” assumption.

    And we still wouldn’t have an answer to the stay-at-home mom’s question. The rate of infections and deaths has been gradually falling for weeks now in Massachusetts. The hospitals are empty. If masks actually do reduce transmission substantially, why can’t people go back to work?

    • @Philg: Isn’t it a moot question now? This has been decided in Massachusetts, it’s the law, and the compliance is going to be enforced by businesses and people everywhere in the state if they want to have even the remotest hope of salvaging their livelihoods and not running afoul of the Raj and getting closed back down or sued, or both.

      I mean, Wachter says: “If Professor De Kai’s mind-blowing video (below) doesn’t convince you of the virtue of mask wearing, I just don’t know what to tell you.”


      Well, I know what to tell you: the Governor of this state has issued an order that went into effect on May 1, and everyone has to follow it. It’s not a request or an advisement or recommendation. Baker and his administration have been incontrovertibly convinced by the public health authorities and their “mind blowing videos” that this is how things are REQUIRED to be done. And they have the power to enforce it. Period, the end.

      This is a lot like how gun owners felt when Maura Healy stood up in a press conference and banned the sale of Massachusetts Compliant AR-15s. She went down the list of previously-legal guns, sold everywhere to licensed owners and said in the Q&A (I’m paraphrasing): “The firearm manufacturers don’t get to decide what is legal to sell in Massachusetts. We do.” End of story. And it was all couched in public health language, and Elizabeth Warren sent her a personal note to thank her.

      Read her remarks: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/11/13/remarks-from-assault-weapons-press-conference.pdf

    • @Alex you don’t have to submit. I live in MA and have yet to wear a mask. No one says anything. The mask order has a big medical exemption, no proof required, and everyone is afraid to open that can of worms. Questioning a disability is a 75K fine under the ADA. Stand up for your humanity, stand up for logos.
      One of the MA papers queried about 30 police departments and not one had cited anyone for nonmask compliance. Besides being stupid, anti-humanity, and worse for health the mask order is toothless.

    • @GB: Yeah, you do have to submit. Personally you might get away with it for a while, good luck to you as you try to piss up the flagpole. I don’t have the option of noncompliance, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, but I’m speaking from an authoritative point of view. You don’t have to believe me but I’m telling you the truth. Businesses have to comply if they want to stay open and it will be enforced. In a lot of cases other competing businesses will rat them out and demand that authorities obtain compliance. It’s already happened where I live, more than once. The customers and patrons of those businesses can try to claim the medical exemption but they’re going to be in a very small minority.

    • Alex: I don’t think it is a moot question. Americans still have the freedom to move, either permanently or temporarily. Our rich neighbors have mostly retreated to their Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine summer “cottages” (Bernie Sanders-style!). We could go to another state for the summer or, especially if schools and playgrounds here in Massachusetts are still shut, for the next school year. Our house is not so fancy that we will be sorry to leave it behind.

    • @Alex let me guess you are worried about being unsuitable for a gun license. What good is your gun license if you are afraid to be human? Nothing will happen to me or anyone else for going unmasked. But you know what is really super hazardous to your health? Fear. Fear is a killer.

    • @Philg: Those are great options and I really do encourage people who disagree with this stuff to vote with their feet and persuade others to do the same. I don’t know whether anyone will have the guts to sue, but I don’t think they’ll win if they do.

      When Maura Healey issued the ban on “copycat” AR-15s a lot of people here had the same sentiment but most of them couldn’t go anywhere. Healy did it while the legislature wasn’t in session and Governor Baker did nothing to stop her. She never presented a shred of evidence that her ban would do anything to stop crime in Massachusetts. She labeled everyone who owned an AR-15 as a “dangerous person who kills.” GOAL had a big rally in Boston, lots of people showed up to protest (and these are people with guns!), there was a big meeting I attended talking about lawsuits, a lot of people donated money, and there was a great deal of outcry and determination to sue the Commonwealth. That that battle was fought, it took three years, and they lost. As far as I know it hasn’t gone to the Supreme Court and it’s not going to.


      “I can’t believe that the attorney general feels she has the power to use her pen to trample on the rights of citizens of Massachusetts while the Legislature is out of session,” said Kristina Sears of Easthampton. “There was no warning, no discussion, no anything.”

      “This law has been interpreted the same way for decades,” said James Conner-Myers of Methuen. “All of a sudden I wake up and I’m told I’ve committed a felony.”


      Yeah, well, now we have the mask order and everything else, until at least December and probably a long time thereafter. The power of the government to do these kinds of things is immense, and most people have no concept of powerful it really is until it touches them, and then they’re stunned and bewildered. Fighting the legal battles takes tremendous resources. If anything, Baker’s response to coronavirus and his mask order has as much or more public support here in Massachusetts than Maura Healy’s AWB interpretation and I wouldn’t know where to begin trying to fight it.

      I don’t think you’ll see any protests about this at all in Massachusetts, and any that do attend are going to be labeled as fringe, far-right, anti-science, anti [whatever] and basically brain damaged. Good luck.

    • @GB: No, that’s not my motivation but I am looking into it. It wouldn’t be the craziest reason I’ve heard for denial.

    • Phil: in the article containing the figure, up a bit from the figure at the beginning of the “The Evidence Supporting Masks” section, there is a link to (the previous version of) this preprint: https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202004.0203/v2

      At the link target you have to click a “Get PDF” button to access the entire paper. On the paper’s third page, the section titled “4. Egress: Masks for Source Control” discusses a good amount of evidence for effectiveness. (“Source Control” is control of ejected droplets, as opposed to “Ingress Control” discussed in section 3.) “Source control” is the reason I advocate wearing masks.

      Somewhat separately, is there evidence that there’s a significant number of “filthy saliva-soaked reused cotton rags” going around? The masks I use are cotton, which go into a washing machine before reuse. The ones I have also have a pocket for a filter, into which I put N95 filters. The filters I let air out for 1 wk.+ before reuse. –That’s my policy, anyway; I go grocery shopping seldom enough that I haven’t reused any filters yet.

      Mom: Masks are part of the solution, but not *the* solution. I wouldn’t go into a grocery store without a mask, and I prefer grocery stores in which everyone else is wearing a mask. But I wouldn’t work all day every day in a typical enclosed office or manufacturing facility (or grocery store) even if everyone there wore one.

    • Russil: Thanks for that link. So masks work! As our stay-at-home mom notes, given that masks DO work, now that masks are required indoors, why can’t public libraries, non-essential stores (i.e., ones that don’t carry medical marijuana, liquor, and other “essential” items), etc. reopen?

    • Philip: Each intervention (masks, banning large gatherings, closing non-essential businesses, closing schools) has costs. Masks are low-cost; closing schools is high-cost (kids are missing education, parents need to provide child care); closing non-essential businesses is somewhere in between.

      When the rate of new infections per day has been reduced to near zero, it makes sense to let up on high-cost interventions first. In Hong Kong, non-essential businesses have reopened, and schools are planning to reopen. In BC, schools are starting to reopen in June.

      In Massachusetts, the number of new infections per day is still over 1000. So dropping the high-cost interventions and relying only on low-cost interventions (like mask-wearing) seems unwise, assuming that you haven’t given up on trying to keep people from getting infected.

  4. MA is only allowing ranges and churches because they are afraid of 1A or 2A court challenges to their ‘authority.’ Heard flight training has resumed at KPYM. Owner of the flight school at 1N7 in NJ started up a while ago after posting a letter quoting homeland security that says flight training and aviation is a federal essential activity.
    According to the Patriot Act interfering with a pilot is a very serious matter, but I doubt anyone has ever been charged under it.
    And of course there is the classic deprivation of rights under color of law, and that eliminates henchmen from qualified immunity.
    Reading MA reopening document it is clear this thing will never end, even if the virus disappeared tomorrow.

  5. Here is an article from Emerging Infectious Diseases journal (published in May 2020) – no hamsters involved, I am afraid, and it has a rather boring title “Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings—Personal Protective and Environmental Measures”: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/5/19-0994_article. It has an entire section on masks. Enjoy a brief relevant quote: “Our systematic review found no significant effect of face masks on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”

  6. Now that everyone in the United States is asking this question, Jason Goodman (I don’t know his background) did an interview with Alan Dershowitz yesterday and it was bone-crushingly unequivocal: the State has the power to force you to be vaccinated — and wear a mask — if they are trying to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. “Police Power” and they can take you to a doctor and “plunge a needle into your arm.”


    “Let me put it very clearly. You have no constitutional right to endanger the public and spread a contagious disease…You have no right not to be vaccinated. You have no right not to wear a mask. You have no right to open up your business.”

    Check out Jason Goodman’s face when he says this. He’s incredulous and looks like someone just told him there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. “Where is THAT in the Constitution?”

    People can disagree about whether they’d like to try civil disobedience on a large scale, or whether Dershowitz is one toke over the line, or claim medical exemptions, etc., etc., but that has always been my understanding as well, from Law Skool days when I discussed anti-vaxxers with many con law professors. The consensus was that they are constitutionally screwed if it’s a communicable disease like measles, and now Coronavirus. Obviously this isn’t a nuanced understanding of the cases and the constitutional basis, and there are people who disagree, but I would bet that during a plague a court would rule they have the power to force you to wear a mask as well.

    Someone is going to try to take it to court and then they’ll find out for sure.

    • Dershowitz is 81, a year younger than the average age of a Covid-19 death here in Massachusetts, so it isn’t surprising that he would take the position that the government can imprison the young, stick them with experimental vaccines, etc., in hopes of protecting him from Covid-19!

      If he is right, however, the government also has the power to implement my dream for preventing up to 80,000 deaths per year from influenza: force everyone to get the flu vaccine (cut deaths by 30% from current level?), shut down schools for 50 years or until a cure is available, prevent young people from leaving their houses except for authorized reasons. And it should have the power to prohibit alcohol. It is true that most drinkers injure themselves, but many drinkers injure others, e.g., via drunk driving or by committing violent crimes while drunk. And the government should have the power to eliminate private car ownership and private amateur driving, which is a major cause of lost life-years here in the U.S.

      Essentially, there is no Constitutional right any time that a government official says “I believe that blocking people from doing X will prevent disease or problem Y and I believe someone who says that disease or problem Y will kill what is, in my personal estimation, a lot of residents of the U.S.”

      At that point, what is the difference, with respect to individual rights, between the U.S. and China other than China has a more efficient government?

    • @philg:

      >“I believe that blocking people from doing X will prevent disease or problem Y and I believe someone who says that disease or problem Y will kill what is, in my personal estimation, a lot of residents of the U.S.”

      Yes, essentially, and then you marshal the academic expert opinion and research to back it up. . When you start talking about public health, it gives the state enormous power. This is why, in broad strokes, Michael Bloomberg funds his School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins and he is also super duper active in gun control. There are two main fronts: erase it as Constitutional right and frame it all as a public health issue. That is essentially what Healey did, that is what Newsom did, that is what happened with the semiautomatic gun ban in Australia (if you Google Rebecca Peters – Open Society/Soros) and that where the battleground on 2nd Amendment rights is now fought. And that is what will happen here under the next Democrat administration. It’s taken about 40 years to set up the infrastructure, or, as Senorpablo put it, to arrange the chess pieces.

      There are tons of material about it. The first link is Mike Bloomberg’s book.



    • Here’s a question: suppose that the vaccine has a 0.01% chance of killing a young person who receives it. And the vaccine has a 50% chance of preventing infection with SuperPlague. And that SuperPlague will kill 1% of the old people whom it infects, but those people had an average of only 4 more years to live due to underlying conditions, old age, and vulnerability to other still-fatal infections, such as flu. Does the government have the right to force a 1-year-old to get stuck with this? To make the arithmetic simple, let’s assume the 1-year-old could live for 100 years. So we lose 0.01 life-years every time we stick a 1-year-old. Let’s assume the country has the same number of young children as people old enough to be seriously at risk from SuperPlague (see https://www.populationpyramid.net/united-states-of-america/2020/). If sticking all the young with the vaccine prevents all of the old from dying of this particular SuperPlague, we save 0.04 life-years in old people for every 0.01 life-years we take away from young children.

      Does that justify going house to house and sticking healthy young children with the vaccine? Dershowitz would say “yes, because a wise leader has made this decision after declaring an emergency”.

    • Not Newsom, Trudeau in Canada, I interchange them because they bear a lot more than a superficial resemblance when it comes to these issues.

    • @Philg: Yes I think that’s essentially correct and it’s going to happen with any eventual COVID-19 vaccine unless the numbers are wildly different. So far, everything I have seen has been talking about testing and eventually vaccinating everyone. It’s in Baker’s reopening plan.

      There has also been an effort to reinforce the concept that this virus is mortally dangerous even among the young, despite the overwhelming evidence regarding age and preexisting conditions. Since everyone is racing to develop a vaccine and roll it out as quickly as possible, it’s going to be very difficult to determine the lifetime increase in mortality rate among the young for several years at least! It’s going to take years of follow-up study for those numbers to settle down. But we don’t have time to wait several years, so as long as young people don’t immediately start dropping dead in large numbers, the vaccine will be “as safe as we can make it” in the time we have, and everyone is going to be vaccinated, by force if necessary.

      Do you really think schools will allow your child back unless you prove they’ve had a vaccine shot? Hell, no! 😉

      We’re obviously closing down schools and throwing up plastic screens around children’s desks and hypothesizing about banning contact sports, assemblies, reducing class sizes by 1/2 or more and everything else because obviously – this virus is dangerous to children! That’s why everyone must wear masks and social distance, etc., until a vaccine is available.

      I don’t do public health for a living but what you say sounds pretty likely to me.

    • There will be civil war before forced vaccinations. They are not going to make everyone take it, they are trying to make everyone want it. Can’t wait to see all the gross used face masks blowing around the beach in the wind. Can sea turtles choke on face masks?

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