By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH – Masks will be required in Southborough public buildings at least through the end of September following a 3-2 Board of Selectmen vote at the board’s Aug. 17 meeting.
Chair Lisa Braccio noted that coronavirus numbers are on the rise, saying that the town’s case rate is now higher than it was last August.
The mask mandate extends to the public, whether vaccinated or not, as well as employees when they are in a common area or interacting with people coming into buildings.
Though masking in other situations decreased with falling case numbers earlier this year, Braccio said that some seniors at the Senior Center have been wearing masks all along.
She also noted that it would be difficult for committees conducting meetings to speak through masks and have the audio picked up sufficiently. Therefore, meetings will be held remotely via Zoom during September.
Selectmen Andrew Dennington and Chelsea Malinowski voted in favor of the mandate along with Braccio.
Dennington said he works in Suffolk County, saying that his office has gone back to requiring masks in common areas and hallways in buildings while not requiring them when sitting alone at a desk. That’s the same proposed arrangement for employees in Southborough.
Malinowski said she didn’t want to go further than the state in terms of mask mandates. However, she said she supported the measure because it provides “a level of security for our employees who are public-facing.”
Selectmen Martin Healey and Sam Stivers voted against a mask mandate.
Healey said he encouraged folks who feel more comfortable wearing masks to do so—mentioning elderly, immunocompromised individuals or those living with sensitive people at home.
However, he said Southborough’s vaccination rate is 70 percent and said that the numbers of COVID-19 cases he is seeing are consistent with the efficacy of the vaccine.
“The other side of mask mandates is people’s liberty and you are telling them what they can and can’t do,” he said. “There needs to be a compelling case and I’m not there.”
Stivers said he had a “mild no” vote. He preferred to wait a little longer before reverting to this measure again.
Braccio added that this year’s November Town Meeting will still be in person as of Aug. 17. She said the town could re-evaluate this mask mandate at any time.
Southborough’s mask mandate comes as the region wrestles with the impacts of the coronavirus’ Delta variant.
The statewide infection rate was at its highest point since late April as of Aug. 17.
Locally, officials have reported spikes in their own municipalities and asked community members to get vaccinated if they have not done so already.