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Greenfield health board backs masks in businesses, public settings

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2021 5:15:46 PM

GREENFIELD — With the recent move of Franklin County into what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers “substantial risk” for COVID-19 transmission, the city’s Board of Health is recommending once again that individuals — regardless of vaccination status — wear face coverings when inside public buildings and local businesses.

The board voted unanimously on the recommendation — which aligns with current CDC guidance on mask wearing — at a remote emergency Board of Health meeting Monday evening.

“It has become evident over the past several weeks that COVID is making an unfortunate comeback all over the world, this country, and in Massachusetts and our county, despite that Massachusetts has a pretty high vaccination rate,” said Board of Health Chair Nancee Bershof.

Franklin County had 23 positive COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with 12 of them being in Greenfield, according to Health Director Jennifer Hoffman. Of those 23 cases, two of them are confirmed to be the Delta variant. The age group affected most, she added, is people between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.

“Not everyone is getting tested for the Delta variant,” Hoffman clarified. “It’s just whoever happens to get tested for it. When you hear the Delta variant, or the Lambda variant — which is up and coming — it’s not that they’re testing every person for it.”

She said the Delta variant is known to be more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus, and those who are infected with the Delta variant tend to have more virus particles in their respiratory tract than other variants.

Hoffman said although there have been breakthrough cases — in other words, a vaccinated individual who is infected with the virus — “unvaccinated people are the greatest concern.”

“The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to contract and therefore transmit the virus,” she explained.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health statistics show that 61 percent of individuals in Franklin County were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 5, while 68 percent of individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Board of Health members said they felt comfortable supporting the recommendation for indoor mask use, given the recent uptick in cases locally and statewide.

“I think it’s a good idea to be a little more cautious,” said board member Kelly Dixon. “We do have a lot of places where things could spread really quickly and easily.”

Before voting in favor of the recommendation, board member Alyssa Valbona said she wanted to emphasize that vaccinations do work.

Regarding the schools, the board was supportive of the Greenfield School Department’s existing policy, outlined briefly by Interim Superintendent Judy Houle.

“Currently, the School Committee has a policy in place — that they did not rescind from last year — that required everybody to be masked indoors,” she said. “There was additional guidance put out by (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) that if you were outside for classes or for athletics, under certain parameters, people could be unmasked. … When School Committee meets, my recommendation will be to continue that policy and keep it in place.”

That would require all individuals from preschool to high school to be masked, she said. Pool testing will also continue, Houle noted.

The discussion on Monday evening comes as state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and state Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, chairs of the Joint Committee on Public Health, call on Gov. Charlie Baker to mandate COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures for schools statewide.

“COVID-19 and its variants have ripped through the commonwealth at great human cost for the last 17 months,” Comerford said in a statement that came in response to the Baker administration announcing that it “strongly recommends” universal, indoor masking for everyone in sixth grade and under, as well as for unvaccinated staff and students in grades seven through 12. “Together, we’ve learned a great many — often brutal — lessons. We must not repeat past mistakes that perpetuate inequity and cost us dearly in both human and economic terms.”

Board members also discussed on Monday whether to put forth any recommendations on in-person public meetings. While they supported allowing Wednesday’s School Committee meeting to go forward in-person as planned, the board expects to revisit the subject closer to September. As for City Council meetings, the board plans to continue its emergency board meeting Wednesday at 5 p.m. to discuss the issue further.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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