Amherst health officials stick with downtown mask-wearing mandate into June

  • Signs near Amherst Town Hall, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, remind people that masks are required. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2021 3:02:20 PM

AMHERST — A mandate for wearing face coverings in Amherst center, in effect since Aug. 3, 2020, will continue into June.

The Board of Health, at a recent special meeting, unanimously reaffirmed that masks must be worn by all people when downtown, even though Gov. Charlie Baker recently lifted the outdoor mask mandate, except in situations where individuals can’t keep six feet apart.

Health Director Emma Dragon told the health board that she worries about the commencement season and the celebratory gatherings students and their families may hold, either in downtown or in other parts of Amherst.

“I do get concerned with a large influx of individuals coming into town, possibly not being vaccinated,” Dragon said.

Dragon added that other communities, such as Brookline and Chatham, also have voted to continue mask mandates. Northampton relaxed its requirements on mask-wearing last week, meaning that masks are no longer required in downtown, in city parks and recreation areas, and on the bike path, if six feet of social distance can be maintained. Easthampton took similar measures in the wake of the state’s latest easing of restrictions. 

Board of Health members noted that Amherst has a larger population of college students and the town’s rules should be consistent with policies that remain in effect at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College campuses.

“I certainly am in support of maintaining it,” said board member John Tobiason. 

Health Board Chairwoman Nancy Gilbert said COVID ambassadors, mostly UMass students who have handed out masks and talked to people about how to protect themselves from infection, have already observed significant non-compliance in the northern end of downtown.

Gilbert added that as the weather gets nicer and restaurants serve more people on the sidewalks and outdoor patios, having unmasked individuals walk by on the street may pose unnecessary risks.

The Board of Health will revisit the topic at its June 10 meeting, at which time Dragon will present trends on COVID-19 cases. 

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


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