Northampton’s inauguration ceremony beset with COVID restrictions

  • The Academy of Music Theatre at the corner of Main and New South streets in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/27/2021 8:20:02 PM
Modified: 12/27/2021 8:19:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s incoming mayor has ordered restrictions on the Jan. 3 inauguration ceremony at the Academy of Music Theatre for elected officials and canceled the evening celebration at the Look Park Garden House in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases both locally and statewide.

Other cities and towns with incoming mayors and council members are also adjusting their Jan. 3 plans due to the recent spike. Easthampton and Amherst are planning brief in-person ceremonies with limited public access.

In a Dec. 23 email, the office of Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz informed elected and incoming officials of the decision made by Mayor-elect Gina-Louise Sciarra, which is meant “to maintain the continuity of city government, the safety of everyone attending the inauguration, and that of the community at large.”

Sciarra announced that the number of attendees will be restricted to 25% of the Academy of Music’s occupancy limit and that groups will be seated separately. The Academy of Music has enough seating for 803 people; on Monday, each of the roughly two-dozen officials who will be sworn in can bring 10 guests.

The public will be able to watch a livestream of the ceremony, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., at NorthamptonOpenMedia.org, on Comcast channels 12, 15 and 23, or at Facebook.com/NorthamptonTV.

“I am sorry and disappointed” by the COVID-related restrictions, Sciarra said Monday. “I am sure that this is not the situation any of us taking office wish or imagine for this important day. But, safety for the community during this (surge of the omicron coronavirus variant) is what is most important.”

All attendees of the inauguration ceremony must take an at-home antigen test for COVID-19 on the morning of Jan. 3 and show a photo of the negative result upon request at the event. Every official being inaugurated and many others involved in the ceremony will receive two tests from the city — one for themselves and one for a guest.

The Academy of Music requires everyone who enters the venue to be fully vaccinated. Everyone attending the inauguration will be required to wear masks — KN-95, surgical or tightly fitting double cloth masks are preferred — and maintain social distancing.

“I urge everyone to get vaccinated and get a booster,” Sciarra said, “and please stay masked and make safe choices this season.”

Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced three consecutive record-breaking, single-day case totals on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The case count released on Monday — 12,983 — also includes cases reported Saturday and Sunday.

The resurgent pandemic forced First Night Northampton, the city’s traditional daylong arts festival and New Year’s Eve party, to cancel in-person events that take place indoors and to plan to livestream select performances instead. The 6:45 p.m. downtown fireworks and the midnight ball-raising on the roof of the Hotel Northampton are still scheduled to take place in person.

Holyoke’s inauguration ceremony, also scheduled for Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., will take place in person at City Hall with a requirement that masks are worn at all times. Mayor Joshua Garcia’s inaugural ball is still planned for Jan. 8 at the Log Cabin.

Easthampton will hold a brief ceremony inside the Easthampton Fire Department vehicle bays. Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the School Committee and City Council will take the oath of office in groups and everyone is required to wear a mask. There will be no gathering afterward.

“We are making provision to have the proceedings taped for the public,” LaChapelle said by email.

Amherst’s Town Council will be sworn in during an in-person ceremony Jan. 3 at 6:45 p.m. with virtual access for the public via Zoom, Amherst Media livestream, and TV channel 17, according to Town Manager Paul Bockelman. Councilors are allowed to invite a “limited number” of guests, he said.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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