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Whately Board of Health issues mask mandate for town buildings

  • Whately Town Hall. Following a rise in cases in both the town and throughout the broader region, the Whately Board of Health issued a mask and social distancing mandate for town buildings Tuesday evening. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2021 3:33:03 PM

WHATELY — Following a rise in cases in both the town and throughout the broader region, the Board of Health issued a mask and social distancing mandate for town buildings Tuesday evening.

The board issued the mandate out of caution because of multiple “spreader events” such as vacation travel and upcoming festivals like the Big E. Whately itself has seen three cases in recent weeks, none of which have come from schools. The mandate will be reviewed again Oct. 31.

Board of Health member Michael Archbald said it’s better to be careful and issue the mask mandate as they wait to see if COVID-19 cases will continue to rise as a result of events that happened last week or are occurring soon.

“I think we’ve got spreader events. We’re still waiting for the two weeks after Labor Day and the end of summer vacations,” Archbald explained. “Both the Three County Fair and the Big E. … There’s reason to be cautious even if our numbers are low.”

Board of Health Chair Francis Fortino said there was already a “strong recommendation” for masks in place, but cases around the region are increasing, even if Franklin County’s numbers are low right now.

“We’ll maybe get some pushback,” Fortino said. “I think most people are already (masking), so I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”

Fellow member Rebecca Jones said the board’s job is to protect all residents and make sure they can access “all the same places in town.”

“In anticipation of any pushback, I think our sort of go-to method is our job to protect everyone, including the most vulnerable,” Jones said. “That’s why we’re behind a mandate.”

According to statistics from the state Department of Public Health, which has incomplete data for the town’s age 12 through 19 population, 34 percent of Whately’s population is fully vaccinated. Fortino said the state data is incomplete because it is based on ZIP codes and Whately covers four different ZIP codes that are shared with other towns.

“We have a mixed bag in Whately of some who are vaccinated and some who aren’t,” Fortino said. “Unfortunately, because Whately is not counted, we often have composite numbers.”

Fortino’s point is made clear when looking at the data. It reports Shelburne has a population of 1,831, but 2,442 people are fully vaccinated there. Residents in neighboring Conway, Ashfield and Buckland have ZIP codes related to Shelburne’s Post Office, but don’t actually live there.

He added the Board of Health firmly stands behind vaccinating everyone who is eligible.

“The clear message is get vaccinated,” Fortino said. “We are very strongly recommending everybody get vaccinated.”

Archbald told the Greenfield Recorder the mandate will be lifted if the town reaches similar vaccination levels to Vermont, which has the highest vaccination rate in the nation. More than 77% of Vermont residents are fully vaccinated while more than 86% have received at least one dose, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard.

“We would love to see Vermont-like (vaccination) numbers,” Archbald said. “We’d love to the see the (COVID-19 case) numbers going down instead of up.”

He added that Whately is a unique community that sees many seasonal workers coming in for the fall harvest and the Board of Health wants to get ahead of that rush as autumn approaches.

“We’re a farm community, so we have a lot of folks who come into our area and work seasonally,” he said. “It’s something we’re keeping an eye on and want to stay on top of.”

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


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