Amherst lifts mask mandate

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2022 1:38:22 PM

AMHERST — A mandate to wear masks and face coverings in indoor public spaces in Amherst, in effect since last August, was dropped by the Board of Health Thursday.

The health board’s unanimous vote to end the mandate came around the same time that the city of Northampton also lifted its mask mandate. Amherst and Northampton had been two of the last communities in the region still requiring masks to be worn inside businesses, municipal buildings and other indoor spaces where the public can gather. 

Amherst’s vote came following input from Health Director Jennifer Brown, evidence of declining public health COVID case numbers, the town’s high vaccination rate of 88%, and updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Public Health guidance.

The day before, the University of Massachusetts’ indoor mask mandate expired on the campus. At the town’s public schools, students and teachers will have the option to not wear masks starting Monday.

Brown said in a statement that the public now decides whether to continue wearing face coverings, with the only requirements being in medical offices and on public transportation.

“I understand that people may be concerned about these changes to mask requirements,” Brown said. “Individuals may choose to continue wearing face coverings whether it is mandated or not. I ask that we each respect the choices we each make about our health and well-being.”

In fact, even with the mask order lifted, the health board encourages that vaccinated and boosted individuals who are immunocompromised, those with family members at risk of serious illness and the unvaccinated still don masks.

Businesses can establish their own rules, as well, but those will not carry the town’s enforcement mechanisms.

As of Friday, the town has 152 active COVID-19 cases.

Following the vote, the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce issued an advisory about the change in policy, with Executive Director Claudia Pazmany expressing appreciation for the town’s efforts to promote safety, including the COVID-19 ambassadors who have handed out masks and talked to visitors about the pandemic.

“I want to thank the Board of Health for all their devotion to this topic and their thoughtful approach, paired with the town of Amherst approach, capitalizing on creating a robust Amherst Ambassador program to support our businesses and community members, to try to ease the burden of the many issues that surrounded the mandates, social distancing and the steady flux of changing data and related mandates throughout COVID,” Pazmany said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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