Wellesley’s Select Board and Board of Health voted on Monday to discontinue the mandate in effect since Sept. 1 requiring mask wearing in municipal buildings as March 7. This came the night before the state’s Department of Public Health loosened its face covering guidance, specifying that vaccinated people only need to wear masks indoors under certain conditions or in specific places.
The Wellesley mask mandate decision does not include school buildings, which are also likely to lose their mask mandate come March 7, based on discussion at last week’s School Committee meeting (there will be a COVID-19 update at the Tuesday, Feb. 15 night School Committee meeting as well).
March 7 was chosen because it gives a bit of a cushion following school vacation week next week, and the March 1 election, which will mainly include in-person voting this time around (the usual absentee voting is allowed). None of this prevents any individual from protecting themselves with a good mask if they wish.
Before Board members discussed the issue, several local residents weighed in, and they all urged the town to rescind the mask mandate.
John Goldberg, a resident who serves as chief medical officer at a biotech firm, said he supports lifting the mask mandate at municipal buildings (as well as at schools). What’s more, he pointed out that “every store you enter in Wellesley right now has a sign suggesting you need to wear a mask, and I think that we can look to doing away with that part of the regulations as well, because those masks just increase that fear and anxiety that we’re talking about…”
Members of the boards voted unanimously to lift the municipal building mandate, though were more mixed on how to handle the phasing out of mask signage. The Board of Health recently undertook a big effort to encourage local businesses to post signs regarding a strong advisory for mask wearing, and now is reluctant to say “Never mind.”
Some said the mask mandate signs at municipal buildings should be replaced with mask advisory signs, to phase out of the current regulations. Others suggested the public isn’t going to make a distinction between a mandate and advisory, and that having the signs would do more harm than good in terms of perpetuating fear that the latest COVID-19 numbers don’t support.
“We need to be careful that the policies we adopt whether they are mandates or advisories don’t unintentionally continue to traumatize the community,” said Select Board Member Colette Aufranc. “We’ve got to message that people are really very, very safe. I think this is a really tricky stage in the pandemic…”
Ann Marie McCauley, the town’s public health nurse supervisor, ran through the latest numbers, highlighting a precipitous drop-off in COVID cases (nearly 50 cases a day in early January to the low teens per day last week) against a backdrop of high vaccination rates and rare serious illnesses from COVID. “Things are getting back to normal in the ways the we care about,” she said.
You can continue to read The Swellesley Report mask-free depending on where you are when reading it.