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Swampscott Board of Health wants indoor masks, but wants the state to set the mandate

This article was published 1 year(s) and 8 month(s) ago.

SWAMPSCOTT — With COVID-19 cases on the rise, and with the Delta variant capable of infecting more than twice as many people at a time, the Swampscott Board of Health took a serious look at mandating masks throughout town Tuesday night. 

The board’s problem? It’s not just Swampscott that’s seeing higher cases; all of Massachusetts is facing an outbreak. 

The Swampscott Board of Health discussed the necessity of an indoor mask mandate beyond town buildings — where they are already required — but decided that they want it to come from the state level rather than town. Members said that this mandate would be easier to enforce when it was coming from a higher authority. 

“It’s not a big ask,” said Board of Health Chair Marianne Hartmann. “It should be made at the state level at this point.”

So far, the only town in Essex County that has a mask mandate for private businesses is Salem, said Hartmann. She said that she wasn’t surprised that the mandate would be through all of October, seeing as how busy Salem can get for Halloween.

“The hard part is when you don’t have other towns directly around you ― it’s hard. Even with the numbers so much higher than they were,” Hartmann said. 

She said she sent a survey around to other towns, but all of them had expressed that they were waiting for cases to get worse before they mandated masking indoors at all businesses again. 

“Everything that happens like that, it’s so against everything public health,” said Hartmann. “It’s supposed to be preventative, not reactive.”

Director of Public Health Jeff Vaughan said that masking is important and is needed to help keep safe the immunocompromised, the elderly, and those who can’t be vaccinated. So far, from what Vaughan said he can see, Swampscott’s businesses are doing a great job of asking patrons to wear masks on their own, and the community seems to be responding well.

“I put the onus on everyone in the public to do what’s right for them,” Vaughan said. “Going inside a private business, you’re affecting what’s going on in that business.” 

While the town’s COVID-19 cases have gone up significantly over the past month, Swampscott is not the only town in the commonwealth that has seen an increase. 

Neia Illingworth, the town’s public health nurse, gave a breakdown of all the news with COVID-19 since the last time the board met. Most notable, Illingworth said, the entire state of Massachusetts has been categorized as highly transmissible.  

“Right now, the entire state is in red with high transmission,” Illingworth said.

There have been 107 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 22, according to town data. The town’s data also shows that there have been 1,317 total confirmed cases since the first case in March. 

Vaughan said that vaccination rates were extremely high for the town; approximately 84 percent of residents have received the first dose and 78 percent have been fully vaccinated. While these numbers have not changed since the board’s last meeting, Vaughan said this shows that people who are now eligible for vaccination, meaning students 16 and older, have been getting at least one dose of the vaccine, if not becoming fully vaccinated. 

Board of Health member Emily Cilley said one of the reasons she was hesitant to enforce a mask mandate is because she wants people to continue getting the vaccine. 

“I don’t want to deter people from thinking they need a vaccination,” Cilley said. “I just don’t want to make it easier for people to say ‘what’s the point?’” 

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