Westborough mask mandate to remain in place through Feb. 8

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Westborough’s Board of Health enacted the town’s current mask mandate on Jan. 3, setting it to take effect on Jan. 5. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

WESTBOROUGH – Westborough’s mask mandate will remain in place through Feb. 8 after a vote by the Board of Health on Monday.

Chair Nathan Walsh and member Melissa Mahr voted in favor of the extension while member Alan Ehrlich voted against it. 

The mandate went into effect back on Jan. 5 as the region grappled with surging COVID-19 case rates as the virus’ omicron variant spread.

The mandate was originally set to lapse on Jan. 31

‘It’s heading in the right direction’

Westborough saw 391 COVID-19 cases confirmed through PCR testing in the week preceding Jan. 13, according to Board of Health data. There were nine additional cases confirmed through at-home testing that week.

That marked a dramatic increase over just a matter of weeks after the town had reported 41 cases in the week preceding Dec. 17.

Numbers have since improved, though, with the board reporting 165 positive PCR tests and nine positive at-home tests in the week before Jan. 27.

Public Health Director Jennifer Sullivan said there had been 32 cases since Jan. 27. 

“It does seem like, in many areas, we’ve peaked and they’ve started to drop,” Walsh said of current COVID-19 case numbers. “We’re still much higher than we have been in the past, although it’s heading in the right direction.”

Board of Health members weigh in on mandate

Though they noted positive signs, Walsh and Mahr expressed an interest in having the mandate in place for a couple more weeks.

Ehrlich said he preferred returning to a mask advisory, which was in place in December. 

He said current hospitalization rates are similar to those seen in December. 

“My concern about the mandate is that there seems to be, in my estimation, a lack of consistent support for this — not just within the feedback that we’ve gotten through the various emails and whatnot,” Ehrlich said.

He said it wasn’t clear that mandating masks “is the best public health approach.” 

“The problem with mandates is, as we know, people need to have confidence in the decisions that the Board of Health makes,” Ehrlich said. “To the extent that we don’t have the support of the public in the decision and the direction that we’re going, I feel like it undermines our ability to handle future problems.” 

An advisory, he said, would communicate what the board considers to be good practice. He said it would not have the “tension” of a mandate, however.

While the board hasn’t surveyed Westborough businesses, Mahr contended that, in general, there is strong support for the mandate. 

Other neighboring towns have similar mandates in place, she added. 

The Board of Health held its vote, approving the extension to the mandate by a 2-1 margin. 

Sullivan has asked that the board review its mask mandate on a weekly basis going forward.

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