The BOP gave the green light today for its Federal Medical Center at Devens, Massachusetts (FMC Devens) to go maskless. BOP administration found that all the criteria had been met to let prisoners go without masks both indoors and out, which included a high rate of vaccination, low rate of quarantine, and low COVID infection numbers in the surrounding community of Boston.
This marks two years, 3 months, and one week that prisoners at FMC Devens had to wear masks at all times, even when outdoors. Staff handed out masks on April 1, 2020, just before hundreds of prisoners there became infected with COVID-19. While the facility`s infection rate was near zero most of the last year, the infection rate for the Boston area stayed above the BOP`s threshold of 100 per 100,000 people in the surrounding area, keeping FMC Devens masked up.
It`s really a technicality, but one that`s welcomed by the prisoners and staff — who were laughing and yelling at the news at noon on Friday that the prison would be opening up and going to “green” operations. But not the entire prison is mask-free, masks are still required in the medical and psychiatric buildings, where vulnerable prisoners are housed. And staff are still operating the prison as if it were under “yellow” operations, at least until they create a new schedule of events to allow prisoners to go to the library and other programs.
Most prisoners had never even seen each other without masks at FMC Devens, having arrived after the mask mandate went into effect. Some say it`s like meeting new people because they had no idea what each other looked like. Some staff have said the same thing. And more than a few people have joked that it was better when certain people had to wear a mask.