Mask mandate moves to advisory as caseload drops
By Jay Turner
Effective midnight Monday, Feb. 14, the city’s controversial policy on indoor mask wearing will change from an enforceable requirement to a “strong” advisory following a unanimous vote by the city’s board of health. the city earlier this week.
Citing a rapid drop in COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates exceeding 80% and increased access to home testing kits, BOH members all said they were comfortable making the change, but have repeatedly stressed that masks should always be worn – at the moment at least.
“We absolutely and strongly support mask wearing,” member Julie Goodman said. “We just think it makes sense at this point to change the mandate to an opinion.”
The move comes as many other places consider similar measures, with a number of cities and states already announcing the end of mask mandates and some announcing similar plans for schools. In Canton, and more broadly in Massachusetts, masks must always be worn indoors in school by order of the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (Update: DESE announced this week that the school mask mandate would be lifted on February 28.)
Individual schools with a vaccination rate above 80% currently have the option of waiving the mask requirement, but that decision is up to the school board and the recent BOH vote has no bearing on the matter.
Medical facilities, public transportation systems and any other setting where masks are required by state or federal order are also unaffected by the council’s decision.
The main difference with a notice, according to Goodman, is that the focus shifts from application to education, and in that spirit, council members recommended that residents continue to adhere to CDC guidelines, which recommend that people to continue wearing face coverings, preferably tight fitting N95 masks, when using indoor public spaces.
For those who are vaccinated, the CDC advises wearing a mask indoors in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” and Canton’s mask mandate, as amended Sept. 9, had tied the requirement to those same settings.
Based on the most recent COVID data available, Canton was still in the “high” risk level as of Feb. 4, although all major indicators were trending lower as part of a sustained downtrend.
More importantly, noted public health nurse James Goodrich, the number of cases has declined rapidly in recent weeks, from a peak of more than 400 cases in seven days at the height of the outbreak. Omicron at the beginning of January to 67 last cases. the week. Similar trends have been reported across the Commonwealth and the North East region as a growing number of health officials call for a shift from a pandemic to an endemic response.
Goodrich himself said COVID appears to be well on its way to an endemic state and called recent data trends “very encouraging,” not just for Canton but for the nation as a whole.
BOH members echoed the optimistic sentiment and praised city residents for taking the COVID threat seriously and adhering to expert advice on vaccinations. Township health director Barbara Reardon said overall vaccination rates look “great” but they would like to see an increase in boosters, especially with 12-18 year olds now eligible.
Reardon said the Department of Health has held a total of 40 vaccination clinics over the past year and will continue to plan additional clinics with a focus on vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 and providing booster shots to anyone 12 years and older (the younger group is not yet eligible for a booster shot).
In the meantime, township health officials will continue to closely monitor COVID data and ask people to take the mask advisory seriously to ensure the numbers stay low.
“We always encourage everyone to wear a mask [indoors] – and a good quality mask,” noted BOH member Alan Rapoport.
Reardon added that individual business owners can still enforce their own mask mandates and customers must honor that decision. “If they want to require a mask, they can do that,” she said. “They can be more conservative if they choose to.”
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