NORTHBOROUGH – A mask mandate will go into effect on Monday after it was approved by the Northborough Board of Health 4-1 on Jan. 6.
Chair Glenn French suggested that the mandate should be temporary and go month by month.
“I am in favor of the mandate,” said member Lisa Johnson. “I think it sets precedence, particularly for the establishments in the town where we have workers of all ages — teenagers, young adults, older adults — and they’re uncomfortable wearing a mask if it’s not a mandate, but they’d rather wear a mask.”
Education alone is not working, she said.
“People are aware they should be wearing masks,” Johnson said. “The education is everywhere. People have COVID fatigue.
“For all those reasons, I think that people need to be reminded it’s important — until we have something else, we need to wear a mask,” she continued.
Northborough joins Shrewsbury and Westborough
Northborough is the latest community in the region to institute a town-wide mandate.
The draft mandate said that, based on a review of the current COVID-19 caseload, positive tests in the community and the rise of the Omicron variant, “the Board of Health has found that there exists in the community a disease and cause of sickness that is dangerous to public health and that action is necessary to minimize the further spread of that disease.”
According to the state Department of Public Health, there were 332 coronavirus cases in Northborough between Dec. 19 to Jan 1. That is an increase from 117 cases over the previous two week period.
Northborough’s mandate will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 10 and will require all individuals over two years old to wear masks in all indoor public spaces.
In food establishments, customers can only remove their face coverings when seated and consuming food and beverages.
Under the mandate, businesses must have a notice on their door saying that face coverings must be worn inside.
Staff must supervise and enforce the requirement, it said.
If someone refuses to wear a face covering for non-medical reasons, the business can decline entry to the person.
The Board of Health and its agents are authorized to enforce the order and can do so at the assistance of Northborough police.
Anyone who violates the mandate can face penalties under a noncriminal disposition process that includes a written warning for their first offense, a $100 penalty for their second, $200 for their third and $300 for a fourth or subsequent offense.
However, agents and officers are encouraged to educate offenders and exercise their judgement on a case by case basis, including issuing verbal or written warnings before deciding that an offense occurred.
Health Agent Kristin Black said there weren’t any fines issued when Northborough previously had a mandate.
Other communities, including Northborough, have had issues with indoor gyms, and owners said people wouldn’t want to work out with masks on, Black said.
“The most calls were surrounding — not any one in particular — but gyms in general,” Black said.
Capobianco votes against mandate
Board of Health member Theresa Capobianco was the only member to vote against the mandate. In part, she said, the reason previous mandates had worked was because there had been a mandate across the state.
Capobianco also expressed concern about the “burden” this was going to put on small businesses, saying businesses would have to police individuals coming into their establishments.
“While I agree with the idea that masks are helpful, this is a futile endeavor if we can’t tell them the type of masks they have to wear and make sure that everyone that comes through this town is from a town that is also wearing masks so that our business owners don’t also have to do the enforcement,” Capobianco said.
Johnson said that, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing KN95, N95 or surgical masks, the CDC has said that any mask — including a cloth mask — is better than no mask.
“I think that a mask period is better than no mask,” Johnson said. “Again, it’s setting precedence for the importance of we’re in a pandemic and we still need to treat ourselves as we are — social distancing, wear a mask — it’s a piece of it. There’s no ideal unless we’re going to stay home.”