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Greenfield health board urges mayor to enact mask mandate

  • WEDEGARTNER

Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2021 5:14:14 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 5:13:42 PM

GREENFIELD — The Board of Health is urging Mayor Roxann Wedegartner to enact a mask mandate requiring anyone above age 5, regardless of vaccination status, to wear face coverings in all indoor public places within the city.

“We need to do our due diligence,” said Board of Health member Kelly Dixon. “And if that means we have to do this multi-layering of vaccination and social distancing, it sounds like that’s where we’re headed.”

The city’s last mask mandate — which was in effect between Sept. 20 and Nov. 8 — was lifted by the mayor after a 30-day review that demonstrated a decline in the local prevalence of COVID-19.

Health Director Jennifer Hoffman told the Board of Health Wednesday evening there were 162 positive cases in November, with 96 cases in the two-week period between Nov. 14 and Nov. 27, according to the state Department of Public Health’s most recent data. Case counts listed on the Greenfield city website state there are 94 active cases, including nine since December began.

Public Health Nurse Megan Tudryn noted that almost 50% of her patients in November were fully vaccinated, many of whom had also received a booster.

“In my opinion, that’s why it’s so important to layer our protection — social distancing, masking,” she said. “Everything we can do, because vaccination alone is not good enough.”

For comparison’s sake, Tudryn added that last year, there was a COVID-19 spike between November and December, with 54 cases and 223 cases, respectively.

“It was so hard to control,” Tudryn recalled. “It was just awful. I’m afraid if we’re already starting at three times as high as we were last year, it’s going to be disastrous.”

Prior to the unanimous vote on Wednesday, Wedegartner said that should the motion pass, she would take the board’s vote into careful consideration.

“I’m not opposed to a mask mandate by any stretch,” she said. “I firmly believe that masking and vaccinations are what will eventually make the difference. The problem we have with this darn virus is that it does mutate, so it keeps us ever on our toes. … I like to think the vast majority of people in Greenfield have the good common sense to do what’s right — to wear their masks in public places and to make that decision for themselves and their families as they go forward.”

A handful of people spoke in support of a mandate during the public comment period.

Greenfield Public Library Director Ellen Boyer told public health officials that her staff at the library has, in effect, had to become “mask police” to individuals who refuse to wear a mask indoors, despite the fact the library is a municipal building where masks are still required.

Similarly, Jan Maher of The LAVA Center said without a mandate, staff at the gallery on Main Street are sometimes forced to argue with individuals who refuse to wear masks, despite the fact the gallery requires them.

“When we are the arbiters of the policy — which is what happens when it’s not mandatory — it really puts us into a very stressful situation, because we have people who come into the space … with an attitude that they don’t have to do that, even if we ask them,” Maher explained. “It makes it very hard to be safe, at times, if somebody is really belligerent.”

Doug Selwyn, also of The LAVA Center, agreed with Maher, who is his wife.

“It only takes one person who is not responsible to actually compromise an entire building,” Selwyn said.

Health officials emphasized Wednesday evening that in addition to masks and social distancing, vaccination is still important with respect to slowing the spread.

“Even though what we’re seeing here locally is maybe different, vaccination does tend to produce a less severe disease,” said Board of Health member Alyssa Valbona. “I don’t want people to give up hope on vaccinating our way out of this problem, however many boosters we may all get.”

Hoffman added that the city’s vaccination rate “is not where we would want it to be, or expect it to be.” According to the Greenfield city website, 67% of residents are fully vaccinated and 77% of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“I think if more people were vaccinated and took to the call, the spread wouldn’t be as significant,” Hoffman said. “We’re not even seeing the Thanksgiving rise yet. … We still absolutely, strongly encourage everybody to get vaccinated, without hesitation.”

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


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