SOUTHBOROUGH – Individuals will be required to wear a mask or face covering while inside in Southborough beginning on Thursday.
This comes after the Southborough Board of Health unanimously approved the mandate during their Jan. 10 meeting, following neighboring Northborough, Westborough and Grafton in implementing such a mandate.
Marlborough’s Board of Health is meeting on Thursday night to discuss the pros and cons of a mandate in their community.
“A week ago, I probably would have had a different spiel to say,” said Chair Chelsea Malinowski. “I think I’ve observed some behavior that has been inconsistent with [how] I thought people were acting — not necessarily in the Town of Southborough, but in surrounding towns that don’t have a mask mandate.”
She continued, “I think, where this is a temporary thing — it’s just to get through this short period of time — I am supportive of doing a mask mandate.”
Malinowski said one of the reasons to implement a mandate was to provide businesses with a backing to say they are following a town mandate when they direct customers to mask up.
“I am certainly not looking for our staff to go out and be policing this on a day-to-day basis,” Malinowski said, noting the volume of the department’s work. “I don’t want to add anything else to their plate unless absolutely necessary.”
The mandate includes an exemption to people under two. It also exempts individuals with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask and people who are hearing impaired and rely on seeing mouths for communication.
The Board of Health will revisit the mandate in February.
Board of Health is ‘strapped’
Southborough Board of Health member Safdar Medina, who also serves on the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough’s medical advisory team, noted that masks are already required in municipal buildings and schools.
There are Southborough businesses that employ both town residents and high school students, he said.
His daughter, for example, works at NY Bagel.
While she wears a mask, Medina said, there are customers coming in unmasked.
“In order to really curb the spread in our town, I think, a mask mandate is necessary,” Medina said.
Southborough saw 219 cases of COVID-19 between Dec. 19 and Jan. 1, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The town has reported that just under 92 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.
Public Health Director Heather Alker said a “good number” of residents wear masks while indoors.
“I do think that omicron is more contagious,” she said, referencing the omicron variant of COVID-19. “So, even exposures not masked indoors, even if they’re somewhat brief, I think could lead to spread.”
“At this point, our healthcare system and our boards of health are just so overwhelmed, the schools are overwhelmed with cases, staffing,” she continued. “I think at this point it is timely, and I would vote yes to do a mask mandate indoors in our buildings.”
Board member Nancy Sacco, who, according to her LinkedIn page is a Registered Nurse at Marlborough Hospital, said there are 49 employees there who are out with COVID-19.
“It’s crazy how easily this is spread,” Sacco said. “I think this is more than timely.”
Alker estimated that the cases will come down in a month.
“I think this is a short-term thing, but I think, with this new variant, the numbers are through the roof,” Alker said.
She said the current number positive cases don’t include people who are testing at home or sick at home and not testing, which Public Health Nurse Taylor West echoed, noting the lack of available testing.
“I just think we’re too strapped to take any more cases that could be prevented by the mask mandate,” Alker said.
Police chief talks enforcement
Under Southborough’s mandate, violators could be fined up to $100 per violation.
Chief Kenneth Paulhus said the department’s perspective has been to leave the enforcement to the public health department.
He said the topic of police departments’ role in public health has been a discussion in the law enforcement industry.
The police would serve as an educational guide, he said.
“Certainly if there’s a problem, we’ll respond,” Paulhus said. “If somebody’s in a public space or in a private business or something like that where somebody wasn’t following the rules and whoever is in control of that property wanted us to respond, we would go.”
He said the police would leave a report.
Paulhus added that if someone is endangering others, then the police could look at other measures on grounds of violations like trespassing or disorderly conduct. The police could also issue a no contact order to an offending person.
“That would be an extreme situation,” Paulhus said.
He recalled a gym in Oxford that didn’t follow public health mandates there. He said the police issued citations and locked up that building.
“I think we would like to follow that model going forward,” Paulhus said, referencing police options in such extreme situations.