Westborough to follow state guidelines, lift COVID-19 restrictions

577

Photo by/Dakota Antelman
Hopkinton Public Health Nurse Kasey Mauro grabs a batch of new syringes while preparing supplies at the new COVID-19 vaccination site in Westborough.

By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer 

WESTBOROUGH – Westborough’s Board of Health and Select Board voted to rescind the COVID-19 guidelines and policies they put in place locally and instead adhere to state guidelines going forward.

During a joint meeting May 25, Board of Health Chair Alan Ehrlich pointed out that about 78 percent of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine. By the end of June, he added, anyone who wants to get vaccinated will have that opportunity.

Board of Health member Nathan Walsh agreed that current COVID-19 metrics look “very promising” and said he felt it is time to rescind all the pandemic restrictions. 

However, his colleague on that board, Melissa Mahr, said that she had concerns because some children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. 

She questioned, for example, whether children should wear masks in the children’s library. Ehrlich said he understood her concerns but pointed out that in that age group, cases of COVID-19 are usually mild. He added that there were some “severe situations” as exceptions.

He also asked how much protection those same children would have “out and about” in parks, restaurants, Red Sox games and elsewhere as they went about their lives. Schools have a stronger case to require masks, Ehrlich said, because children are inside for prolonged periods of time with less air circulation.

Walsh said masks help to cut down on the spread of other respiratory illnesses as well. He said it should be an individual’s personal choice whether or not to wear them to pick up food, for example, and he isn’t prepared to locally mandate mask-wearing now that the state’s mandate has ended.

Governor Charlie Baker did lift that mandate on May 29. Individuals still must wear masks while using transportation systems, including ride shares, taxis, commuter rails, and more and while in health care and congregate settings. Staff and students in grades K-12 and preschool will also keep wearing masks.

Under the new guidelines, Baker is also lifting all restrictions for industries and allowing 100 percent capacity in public places. 

Statistics from the state Department of Public Health indicated that COVID-19 testing positivity rates were at one percent as of May 25, dropping by 89 percent from their peak during the height of the pandemic. Also, 3.2 million people in Massachusetts are fully vaccinated and 4 million have had a single dose to date. 

Select Board Vice Chair Ian Johnson said there is no need for the town to establish any other restrictions beyond the current state guidance. 

“We’ve done a good job,” he said. “People are hopeful and ready to move on.” 

Town Manager Kristi Williams reported that feedback from Town Hall personnel indicated they are ready to get rid of masks. 

However, the Select Board said plexiglass would remain at counters for now and hand sanitizer stations would also stay in government buildings.

Select Board members also discussed keeping remote participation in place for guests at meetings.

As far as boards go, Williams noted that as long as there is an in-person quorum of members, others on the committee could participate remotely or make presentations.

Select Board Chair Allen Edinberg said his board’s in-person meetings would begin this month. He noted that once those in-person meetings resume, citizen engagement at meetings is not something the board wants to lose. 

Williams added that the governor may extend his policy for virtual meetings through legislation until September 1.

Williams noted that Gov. Baker may also file legislation to extend outdoor dining and beverage measures through November 29. The board will send a letter of support for that legislation.

Both boards agreed it would be logical to post signage on government buildings urging individuals who have not been vaccinated to keep wearing masks. That measure follows along with the governor’s latest guidance.

In Westborough, as of May 20, Williams reported 58 percent of the population is fully vaccinated while 77 percent is partially vaccinated.