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Montague Selectboard mulls health safety precautions for Town Meeting

  • Montague Town Hall. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2022 11:26:06 AM
Modified: 5/2/2022 11:24:34 AM

MONTAGUE — The Selectboard is considering implementing COVID-19-related precautionary measures for the May 7 indoor Annual Town Meeting amid a recent uptick in positive cases.

Discussion among board members last week followed Health Director Daniel Wasiuk’s presentation of Montague’s two-week rolling COVID-19 case count, which was tied with the previous week’s report as the highest positive count since late February. Thirty-six cases were recorded from April 10 to April 23.

While Wasiuk expressed a lack of concern regarding the rate of increase, residents and Selectboard Clerk Matt Lord suggested the town consider ways to best protect the community.

“I think these increases are minimal,” Wasiuk said. “I know that volatility still remains, but I think they’re really nominal.”

Lilith Wolinsky, a Montague City resident and Town Meeting member, said the town should consider stricter regulations, citing the belief that “a huge amount of Town Meeting members” have underlying conditions that might put them at greater health risk.

“I’m wondering at what point do we make accommodations because according to the New York Times, Massachusetts numbers have gone up 45% in the last two weeks, and again, this does not include the home testing, which is likely a huge amount of COVID positives,” she said.

“I would point out, rather, that the Board of Health felt that these are personal choices and personal responsibility, which individuals should adopt,” Wasiuk said in contrast.

Particularly concerning Town Meeting, Lord suggested the town both require masking and provide N95 masks to those who attend.

“I think it would be good to require masks for Town Meeting,” he said. “We’re asking people to come into an enclosed space where they are going to be speaking for a prolonged period of time. I do not think that masks are going to diminish the quality of our Town Meeting.”

Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz then suggested the town could socially distance seats and designate a specific space for those who are uncomfortable being in close proximity to others who may not be wearing masks.

Town Clerk Deb Bourbeau said she conducted a “quick survey” within the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association that revealed “with the exception of two towns,” towns are holding their Town Meetings “as normal.”

“Some, however, are getting creative and having … one-half be where people who want to wear masks sit, and the other half who don’t want to wear masks can sit in this section,” she added. “I’ve also been told that they’re having check-in tables for people who want to wear masks and check-in tables for people who don’t want to wear masks.”

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said the town has analyzed ventilation data as Montague looks to hold its Town Meeting in the Turners Falls High School auditorium, which accommodates a maximum capacity of 422 people.

“We do worry about this,” he said. “We worry about anybody’s interest in coming to Town Meeting.”

The Selectboard voted on Feb. 28 not to extend the public mask mandate, which expired on March 1. The board also voted to lift the mask mandate within town-owned buildings that was set to expire April 4, heeding the prior week’s Board of Health recommendation. The vote came amid a decline in COVID-19 cases at the time.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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