WESTBOROUGH – Masks will be required in all indoor public spaces in Westborough as of Wednesday, Jan. 5.
The town has announced the mandate through social media, though phone calls to residents and though other channels following a vote by the Board of Health on Monday.
This decision to move forward with a mandate comes as COVID-19 cases continue to surge locally and throughout the country.
Westborough specifically saw 166 new coronavirus cases in the week preceding Dec. 30. That marked an increase over the 72 cases seen just a week earlier.
Just seven weeks after cases dipped to 14 in the week preceding Nov. 12, this new peak has translated to the single highest weekly case count recorded so far in the nearly two-year old COVID-19 pandemic, according to an update from the Board of Health penned by member Alan Ehrlich.
The volume of new cases has “hampered” the town’s ability to track certain other metrics, according to Ehrlich’s statement
“We will continue to report the numbers and we will update the records as we are able, but for now, be aware that we do not have high confidence in some of the data elements,” Ehrlich wrote.
Mandate to remain in effect through January
The new mandate applies to anyone older than two years of age. It exempts individuals with medical conditions, mental health conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks.
Individuals communicating with people who are hearing-impaired are also exempt if the ability to see the mouth “is essential for communication.”
The mandate further exempts “persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.”
Individuals can remove their masks if they are actively eating or drinking in a space “approved for eating or drinking.”
They can also remove masks if they are “clearly socially distant.”
The mandate will remain in effect at least until Jan. 31.
Likewise, it will carry a $100 penalty for violations.
Under the mandate, surgical masks, N-95 respirators and cloth masks all count as masks. The town is recommending that individuals avoid single layer cloth mask though as those as those are “the least effective.”
Case surge continues across state
Masks have already been required in Westborough municipal buildings since Dec. 1 after the town moved forward with a mandate for those facilities.
The Board of Health met on Dec. 6 and considered enacting a broader mandate at that point. It opted against such a choice at that time, though, instead issuing a mask advisory to wear masks while indoors and to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Roughly a month later, the state was averaging over 14,000 cases per day as of Jan. 2, up from just 4,000 on Dec. 2, according to state data.
That same data shows there are more people going to the hospital due to COVID-19 as well.
The seven day average of hospitalizations sat at 886 on Dec. 2. That had more than doubled to 1,901 as of Jan. 2, matching a level last seen on Jan. 29, 2021.
The state reported a daily average of 19.4 deaths due to COVID-19 on Dec. 2. That number had climbed to 29.3 as of Dec. 30. Data was not available beyond that date as of Jan. 4.
This daily death rate is the highest recorded since March 30, 2021.
Experts discuss data and Omicron variant
Public health experts have wrestled with a rapidly developing understanding of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci said late last month that data, to date, had suggested that this variant is less severe than some of its predecessors.
He warned in new comments on Jan. 2, though, that “We’re still going to get a lot of hospitalizations.”
Neighboring communities react to surge
Locally, Grafton instituted its own mask mandate this week. It also announced on Tuesday that its Municipal Center would be closed through Jan. 18 “due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19.”
In Shrewsbury, a mask mandate has been in place since October. The town recently moved a step further, though, transitioning Town Hall operations to a hybrid modality beginning on Dec. 20.
Town Manager Kevin Mizikar said on Dec. 21 that he anticipated the town remaining in that hybrid format through the end of January.