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Whately Selectboard implements vaccine mandate for private events held in Town Hall

  • Whately Town Hall. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2021 4:41:05 PM

WHATELY — The Selectboard voted Wednesday night to reopen Town Hall to private events with the requirement that all participants be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

This mandate applies only to private events, such as those held by the Whately Grange, Historical Society or Watermelon Wednesdays, and not to public town meetings, which will remain on Zoom until the policy is reviewed further. Event organizers will be responsible for enforcing the vaccine mandate.

The Board of Health recommended the mandate be put in place for public events and meetings as well, but the Selectboard held back on a blanket order.

Board of Health Chair Fran Fortino said the board recommended a vaccine mandate out of an abundance of caution.

“The intent was to open up the public space because it’s been closed. … Those precautions will hopefully protect most of the attendees, if not everybody,” Fortino said. “Our role is to be cautious and our role is to protect the public as much as possible.”

Fortino said Whately’s private event mandate is based upon vaccine policies private businesses have in place and it’s the best way to ensure everyone is protected.

“It’s a balance,” Fortino said. “You want to provide the public with access to public buildings, but with as many safety precautions as you can put in place.”

He added this is a sort of model other towns could look at if they want to implement some sort of vaccine mandate.

“I think we’re all in a sort of transition phase and it’s going to require a careful look at the trends and precautions in place, and slowly loosen the restrictions when it’s advisable,” Fortino said. “This is a sort of step.”

Before passing the private event mandate, the Selectboard had discussed and voted to reopen Town Hall to public meetings at 50% capacity, with mask requirements and strongly urging vaccinations. This order, however, was rescinded later in the meeting and public meetings will remain remote, with the policy reviewed every two weeks.

The Board of Health recommended the Selectboard reopen town buildings to public meetings as long as everyone present was masked, socially distanced and vaccinated, but the Selectboard and Town Administrator Brian Domina said enforcing a vaccine mandate on public meetings may be over the line.

“I think we should discuss the recommendation that people should be fully vaccinated to enter town buildings because I think that’s problematic,” Domina said, “We definitely don’t have the resources for town staff to check vaccination status of people entering town buildings.”

Selectboard member Fred Baron said it’d be a bad practice to implement a policy the town has no plan of enforcing.

“I’d love to see everyone vaccinated, but it’d be such a bad precedent to issue a regulation that we don’t have the resources or intention to enforce,” he said. “This meeting will be public record with us saying we can’t enforce it.”

Selectboard Chair Jonathan Edwards agreed, saying the town cannot implement a mandate without having a way to police it. He suggested the town urge people to get vaccinated without requiring it.

“The only way we can implement what the Board of Health recommended is if we come up with a way to enforce it, which we can’t do right now,” Edwards said. “I think the mask mandate is appropriate and I think we can strongly encourage vaccinations.”

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

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