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Deerfield implements townwide mask mandate, effective Jan. 18

  • Deerfield’s Municipal Offices and Police Station on Conway Street. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2022 4:01:13 PM

DEERFIELD — In response to elevated COVID-19 cases in the region and the discovery of the omicron variant in town, the Board of Health has issued a townwide mask mandate, pending town counsel review, that will go into effect Jan. 18.

The mandate is officially set to expire at the end of the month, but the Board of Health will review case numbers at its Jan. 26 meeting to determine if the order should be extended. The mandate applies to all public buildings and businesses.

“This is so highly transmissible, and wearing a mask and social distancing does have a huge impact,” noted Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness. “It’s basic public health.”

During an emergency meeting Monday, the Board of Health had approved a mask policy requiring all town employees to wear masks when they are unable to practice social distancing, effective Jan. 11. The order also stipulates that all municipal meetings be held remotely and makes Town Hall open by appointment only.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Shores Ness initiated the conversation about a broader mandate. Fellow board members Trevor McDaniel and David Wolfram were on the fence, but eventually shifted in favor of the temporary order as long as they continue to monitor case numbers.

“I’m not against it,” McDaniel said. “My feeling is that everyone knows what to do at this point. It’s not like it’s new information. … People are smart enough to put a mask on and if they aren’t, they should by now. I don’t know how else to educate you any further.

“I’m furious,” McDaniel added. “It’s been forever and people ignore the science.”

Shores Ness said the Board of Health can post a meeting at any time if cases decrease.

“We can back off,” she said, “if the case numbers spike and go down.”

In the two-week period from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8, Deerfield has registered 101 COVID-19 cases, according to state Department of Public Health data released Jan. 13.

Shores Ness said these numbers are high, but many of them are private school students who used their Deerfield address to set up an appointment for a required PCR test before returning to campus.

“We definitely had more numbers, but that big spike was related to kids not even being here,” Shores Ness said. “It was they used a Deerfield address, they weren’t actually even in town.”

Several residents chimed in during the conversation in support of the mandate.

“Are we going to wait until our numbers go up and we react or are we going to listen to the science?” asked resident and Planning Board member Kathy Sylvester. “I think that’s what the Board of Health has to do is keep us all safe.”

Despite no townwide order before now, Deerfield Health Agent Alex White said he has seen a large majority of the public wearing masks when he makes his health inspections at businesses around town.

“(I have seen) 96% of individuals, including business operators, wearing a mask, including their staff and the customers,” White said.

White added the delayed implementation date of Jan. 18 will give local businesses time to prepare if they haven’t required masks already.

The Board of Health unanimously approved the mandate and will review the policy at its next meeting Jan. 26, at 6 p.m.

“The mask mandate will go into effect for the remainder of the month of January,” Wolfram said, “and then we’ll review it on the 26th to see if we’ll carry it into February.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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