An emergency meeting held by the Wellesley Board of Health and Board of Selectmen on Friday to discuss a possible mandatory face mask order got rerouted midstream when the state issued a new face covering order of its own to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus. The live-streamed Wellesley meeting lasted more than 2-and-a-half hours and attracted more than 150 viewers at times, at least 10 times as many as we’ve ever seen.
(The Swellesley Report broke the story on Wednesday this week that the Town was discussing such an order.)
About a dozen residents commented during the citizen speak portion. Commenters questioned everything from the urgency of the COVID-19-inspired meeting, to the possible temporary banning of runners and cyclists from the Brook Path (allowing walkers to rule), to town overreach and an erosion of civil liberties, to a perceived profusion of local busybodies.
Resident Kevin H said, “We should not get hysterical about these people without masks or with ill-fitting masks. We shouldn’t try to micro-manage the people of Wellesley.” He advised the Boards to focus their efforts instead on educating the public.
Resident Eugene L. also opposed a mask requirement outside. “There is a very vocal minority who believes they can dictate their will and shame people,” he said, referencing an active social media platform. “Don’t let this minority control this town.”
More than 120 emails were sent to the Board of Selectmen over the past day regarding the meeting. And this was before people even saw what was in the draft order, which would have gone into effect May 5. The new state order is effective May 6.
The draft order, which underwent editing on the fly under the watchful eye of town lawyers, will now be mulled over the weekend and revisited at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. The draft order in some ways is less strict than the new state order, but also would include more specifics about things such as using re-usable bags and the aforementioned ill-conceived Brook Path rules.
The 2 boards appeared to be nearly full-steam ahead on approving the order for the first half of the meeting, but once Board of Health Chair Shep Cohen alerted the boards about the new state order, the tone shifted dramatically to one of “let’s give this a bit more thought.”
Among those raising questions about going too far with face covering rules was Dr. Marcia Testa from the Wellesley Board of Health. Improper use of face coverings can do more harm than good, especially as people tend to go way more to their faces when wearing and readjusting them, she stressed. “Unless we provide people with FDA-cleared masks and training,” she said, ordering mask use everywhere wouldn’t be safe.
Board of Selectmen member Beth Sullivan Woods also raised the issue of public shaming in a time of stress, such as when someone who for medical reasons cannot wear a mask needs to go out in public.
While Wellesley’s order would not put police into the untenable situation of actively enforcing mask wearing, they would be equipped with protective gear to distribute if needed in a situation they came across. (Fortunately, no one on the police force has been diagnosed with COVID-19 to date.)
You can review the draft order and recording of the Friday meeting (below) to gather your thoughts on it if you want to weigh in before Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
It sounded toward the end of the meeting that a more likely outcome than a strict town order will now be a guidance that supplements the new state order. That and reverse 911 calls. And lots of new signs in town reminding you to do this or that to help keep each other safe.