MARLBOROUGH – Face coverings will be required while indoors in Marlborough starting on Jan. 21 after the Marlborough Board of Health approved a mandate during its Jan. 13 meeting.
Marlborough is the latest community in the region to enact a mask mandate, joining Shrewsbury, Westborough, Northborough, Southborough and Grafton.
Board member Phillip Short was not present during the meeting.
“I’m very pleased with the way that it’s worded,” said Chair James Griffin of the mandate. “It seems to be quite concise. It lays out the particular areas of the city that would be covered by this regulation.”
There were about 20 people in attendance who were advocating both for and against the mandate.
One of the advocates for a mask mandate was Emily Wilde, who is chair of the Marlborough Cultural Council.
“A lot of my council members, and even myself, don’t feel safe coming into the City Hall with the current state of the virus circulating so widely,” Wilde said. “For them and for people who want to come and participate in government and they don’t feel safe with people breathing without masks, I would like to express strong support for masks.”
Some of the advocates against the mandate said they wanted the choice to wear a mask. One asked if showing their vaccination cards to enter restaurants was on the horizon.
“Members of the board, I would just like to state, for the record, wearing a face mask or getting vaccinated is voluntary and can not be mandated,” said resident Dan Robinson.
City Council weighs in
Four members of City Council — Mark Oram, Laura Wagner, David Doucette and Samantha Perlman — all advocated for a mandate.
“People may be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic isn’t done with them,” Wagner said.
She likened the argument about masks to arguments about smoking.
“It could be ‘my right, my body,” Wagner said. “I might decide to have a cigarette right here. But me forcing all of you to breathe in my second-hand smoke is not O.K.”
Wagner said she has compromised people in her life and was cautious about bringing the virus to people who won’t be able to fight it.
“It’s definitely time to send a strong message to our community — this is serious and we have to keep fighting for each other,” Wagner said.
Details of the mandate
The topic of a possible mask mandate arose previously during the Board of Health’s Jan. 10 meeting.
At that point, there were 653 active cases in Marlborough, which was a decrease from the city’s peak of over 1,000 cases on Jan. 7. The number of active cases had fallen further to 527 as of Jan. 12.
Director of Public Health John Garside said on Jan. 13 that staff surveyed communities who have enacted similar mandates, such as Salem and Waltham.
Now set to take effect, Marlborough’s regulation will require people ages five and older to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, including houses of worship and private spaces open to the public.
There is an exemption for people who are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition or disability and people who are communicating with a hearing impaired person where seeing the mouth is “essential for communication.”
Those who violate the mandate could face a civil fine of $50 per violation.
Griffin noted that other communities have their fines set “much, much higher,” and he and Garside talked about the possibility of making the fine lower than $50.
However, the legal department told them that, if they did not include a fine, there would be a default amount of $1,000 if the person is found guilty in court.
“I’d hate to have a regulation without a penalty, myself,” Garside said.
He added that the city had not issued any citations over the past two years under Gov. Charlie Baker’s previous mask order.
“The state did issue a couple fines here locally, but we did not,” Garside said. “We’re not typically heavy-handed in regards to fines. It’s usually a last resort for anything we do.”
The mandate will remain in place until it is rescinded by the board, though the board intends to review it at their regularly scheduled meetings.