NORTHAMPTON – Customers and company staff, as well as anyone else entering an indoor public space in the city, will once again be required to wear a properly fitted mask over their mouth and nose starting Wednesday.
The Board of Health voted Monday night to reinstate a mask mandate in response to the resurgence of coronavirus infections after a presentation by public health experts who described an increase in local cases due to the delta variant of the virus.
The council voted to allow Director of Public Health Merridith O’Leary to finalize the language of the order in consultation with city attorney Alan Seewald, and O’Leary asked the council to give the public 24 hours for preparing. Exemptions include children under 5 and anyone who cannot wear a mask due to a health problem.
In a virtual hearing attended by at least 80 people, the council heard from business owners and local leaders, who had different views on the importance of wearing a mask in order to slow down the process. spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Some asked for a mandate to protect public health, while others expressed concern about possible economic consequences and human rights violations.
“We understand that preventative measures are needed, but individuals have had the option of being vaccinated or not being vaccinated for months,” said James Przypek, general manager of the Three County Fair. “Individuals have had the option of wearing a mask or not wearing a mask for months. We ask you not to take away the right of individuals to make their own choices. “
Przybek said a mask warrant “would seriously affect business at the Tri-County Fair, including the New England paint horse show taking place this weekend.”
Bud Neiswender, owner of Inspirit Crystals, said the downtown business has started requiring masks for all customers and staff in the past few days. Other businesses in town have their own mask requirements, if any.
“We would be really (mistakenly) careful, and we also have a rule across Northampton that we can enforce, so customers will know what to expect more easily,” said Neiswender. “The more secure we keep our staff, the more likely we are to be able to stay open. “
The health department is currently investigating an outbreak linked to an indoor workplace in the city, public health nurse Vivian Franklin said, and at least half of people in the “small-scale cluster” of cases have been fully vaccinated.
“All of these people have become symptomatic and there is evidence of transmission” between people with various vaccine statuses, said Franklin, who added that there are confirmed cases of the delta variant in the city. “It has become the predominant circulating variant and now accounts for over 90% of cases in the country and at least 85% of cases in the state. “
Hampshire County is considered to be at moderate risk for community transmission of the coronavirus based on positive test results over the past seven days, Massachusetts’ lowest risk level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All other counties are at substantial or high risk.
A “moderate” risk means 5-7.99% of COVID-19 tests are positive.
UMass Amherst also announced Monday that all faculty and staff must be vaccinated, and an indoor mask mandate will go into effect Wednesday, indicating that the policy will be reviewed in mid-September.
“Face coverings should be worn in almost all indoor public spaces, including classrooms, hallways, elevators, washrooms,” and other places, including meeting rooms and laboratories, wrote university in its ad. “To further protect our community, the university will require that faculty and staff be vaccinated. This demand follows the agreements concluded in recent days with our unions. A significant number of employees have already been shot.
The Easthampton Health Department also issued an advisory on Monday urging the use of an inner mask for all people over 5 years of age, regardless of their immunization status.
“The Delta variant is highly contagious and currently accounts for 80% of COVID-19 cases in the northeast,” the department wrote in a public notice. “However, people who are fully vaccinated appear to be contagious for a shorter period of time.”
The health department is running a vaccination clinic at the Easthampton Community Center on Monday, August 16 from 9 a.m. to noon and at Big E Market from 1 to 3 p.m.
At Monday night’s meeting in Northampton, a member of the public urged the Board of Health not to implement a program similar to the vaccination mandate in New York, which requires anyone entering certain domestic businesses to present proof at least one vaccine.
“We are not talking about vaccine passports,” said Dr. Suzanne Smith, member of the board of directors.
O’Leary, the director of public health, said the health department can provide masks and panels to businesses in need.
Brian Steele can be reached at [email protected]