SHREWSBURY – Come Friday, Shrewsbury residents will no longer be required to wear face coverings in public places.
The Shrewsbury Board of Health unanimously voted to rescind their order during their meeting on Tuesday.
“I think the time has come to give people a dividend, and especially in your town where they have been so compliant with vaccination,” said Worcester’s Medical Director Michael Hirsh who was in attendance at the meeting.
As the town mandate will lapse, masks will still be required in schools. The board plans to revisit that matter during their March 4 meeting, noting a potential for more cases following this month’s February vacation.
Shrewsbury joins other communities
The Board of Health approved its mask mandate in early October — a move that other local municipalities followed last month following a surge of COVID-19 cases.
Communities have been discussing lifting those mandates in recent days and weeks.
Among those, nearby Worcester also anticipates lifting its mask mandate on Feb. 18, pending a Board of Health vote on Feb. 16.
Grafton, Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough and Westborough all voted to remove their mandates last week.
Hirsh said Shrewsbury’s local case numbers were “steadily plummeting.”
At its peak, the town reported over 1,400 cases between Jan. 2 to Jan. 15. Just under a month later, the town reported 82 positive COVID-19 cases between Feb. 4 to Feb. 11.
Hirsh said that Shrewsbury has the highest vaccination rates among all of the municipalities in the Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance — which also includes Worcester, Grafton, Millbury and West Boylston.
Hirsh’s presentation indicated that 79% of Shrewsbury residents are fully vaccinated.
Official talks impacts of mandate
Speaking on Tuesday, Hirsh discussed the impacts of a lingering mandate on businesses and schools.
Businesses, he said, suffer when people go elsewhere to shop, dine or seek entertainment because of such requirements.
“The business concerns are not, obviously, my concern, I’m not a business person,” Hirsh said. “But I think that one of the things that I’ve learned about public health is you can’t take the public out of the public health.”
He also discussed mental health impacts of masks, noting that Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty’s mental health task force has found that students are feeling isolated, which has led to self harm, violence and struggles to advance academically.
Hirsh said the Health Department will have to monitor several things, such as any future variants and any trends in the number of cases, particularly following recent decisions to lift mask mandates.
“We also want to emphasize that the recision doesn’t mean we don’t want people to not wear masks,” Hirsh said.
People who are immunocompromised, over the age of 75 and anyone who feels more comfortable wearing a mask should be allowed to wear masks, he said.
People shouldn’t throw away their masks, Hirsh added.
“I think that, come the winter we will definitely — in the winter of 2022 to 2023 — probably see a rise again in cases,” he said.
Hirsh encouraged community members to get vaccinated and boosted as one of several tools to promote public health moving forward.