The Wellesley Select Board briefly touched on the issue of indoor mask mandates (beyond current requirements in municipal buildings) at the end of its meeting on Monday night, raising the possibility that a more formal discussion of the topic could be in the offing as COVID-19 case numbers rise locally and across the state amidst the Delta and Omicron variant spread.
The town has seen of late as many as 10 cases a day, a bit less if you pull out the numbers for colleges in town. Wellesley Public Schools has seen an increase as well, pulling off its winter concerts last week after stepping up testing and contact tracing, but closing down its Child Lab until the new year (after initially closing it for a week) and announcing this week that it’s limiting spectators at its boys and girls hockey games to parents/guardians of seniors only out of concern about COVID-19 spread.
As one reader noted, it’s about time to start reporting on what IS still happening rather than what’s being nixed…
Mask mandate questions
Select Board member Lise Olney, noting Newton’s indoor mask mandate, said during the Board’s Dec. 20 meeting that she keeps getting questions from constituents about an indoor mask mandate and asked about whether the Board of Health has discussed the matter.
Separately, the Charles River Regional Chamber recently asked its business members for their opinions on whether an indoor mask mandate is needed in the state and got mixed views, with some saying it is needed since so many won’t wear masks voluntarily and others saying a mandate will only further hurt small businesses.
The Wellesley Board of Health dove into the subject of mask mandates at its Dec. 16 meeting, concluding that such a mandate was not appropriate at this time.
The Health Department has issued a strong advisory for those age 5 and above to wear masks indoors in public settings, and encourages getting vaccines, including boosters. The Health Department has also distributed masking signs for businesses to display if they wish.
The town’s mask advisory is in line with a Massachusetts Department of Public Health advisory issued on Dec. 21. DPH also released results of a review of breakthrough COVID cases among those who are vaccinated and found that about 97% of such cases do not result in serious illness, while adding that unvaccinated people are 5 times more likely to get infected than vaccinated ones.
At the Dec. 16 Board of Health meeting, Health Department Director Lenny Izzo says he has received several emails from residents requesting that the Board consider a town-wide indoor mask mandate.
Board member Dr. Marcia Testa-Simonson stressed that there are ways people can protect themselves with masks in public, by wearing properly fitted N95 masks. Cloth masks are more from protecting others from you, if you have COVID-19, though still with limited effectiveness. The cloth mask movement gained popularity when Food & Drug Administration-approved N95 masks were harder to come by, she said.
“People who are concerned about their family members and themselves, if they go out in a crowd and are concerned about catching [COVID-19], then get an N95 fitted mask, and that would be the message because that prevents both droplet and aerosol spread, which is the way this virus spreads,” she said. “It’s important for people to know the different masks and how they should be worn.”
KN95 masks would be the next best thing to N95 masks, she added.
“There’s a concern when you’re mandating something that’s not worn effectively,” Testa-Simonson said. “That’s why people have to know that by a town mandate where people think they’re safe, and they’re taking their masks on and off, it probably makes it worse…and that’s the concern.”
Izzo said he will work to add more information to its COVID-19 information hub about masks and proper use of them. The Board isn’t planning to meet again until the new year.
If the Select Board does add a mask mandate item to its meeting agenda in the near future, Chair Tom Ulfelder said it will be important to include medical experts to ensure a balanced discussion.