Northampton to consider reinstating mask mandate for businesses, other gathering spaces

  • In May 2020, these signs stating that masks must be worn in downtown Northampton were installed. After relaxing mask rules earlier this year, the Board of Health will meet Monday to consider a new mask mandate for businesses and other indoor gatherings. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2021 1:42:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Board of Health will meet Monday to consider reinstating a mask mandate for city businesses and other gathering spaces, along with additional public health measures meant to battle COVID-19 as the delta variant spreads.

“We are advising in the meantime that all local businesses take it upon themselves to require masks indoors for both employees and customers regardless of vaccination status,” the Northampton Health Department said in a letter this week to business owners and managers. “Please strongly encourage ALL employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Hampshire and Franklin counties are at moderate risk of community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, while every other county in Massachusetts is at substantial — including Hampden and Berkshire — or high risk, like Bristol and Dukes counties.

The CDC said Thursday that 83% of U.S. counties are now at substantial or high risk of infection. In those areas, the CDC recommends everyone wear a mask indoors when not at home, regardless of vaccination status.

“(It is) worth noting that we are not isolated in our county, and many individuals from other counties are patrons and employees in our local businesses,” the Northampton Health Department wrote in its letter, adding that Hampshire County’s rise from low to moderate transmission was “rapid.”

Katri Schroeder, assistant manager and chocolatier of Heavenly Chocolates in Thornes Marketplace, wears a mask at work even though it’s not required.

“Knowing the information about the delta variant, I’m just trying to keep myself and other people safe,” said Schroeder, who is fully vaccinated.

Many businesses in Northampton have posted their mask policies at their entrances. Some ask people who are unvaccinated to wear a securely fitted covering over their mouth and nose, while others — such as Tart Baking Co. on Main Street — started requiring masks for all customers and staff on Friday, in response to the Health Department’s letter.

Before reimposing its mask mandate, Tart Baking followed guidance that said only unvaccinated people needed to wear masks in public.

“Our policy is that we trust our local health department,” said owner Annie Lytle-Rich. “If they put in a requirement, that’s what we will do.”

As of Friday, the CDC reports that 55.5% of Hampshire County residents are fully vaccinated, including 84.7% of seniors. The Health Department offered to vaccinate employees at their workplaces, and also provided a list of three locations in the city where anyone can receive the vaccine.

Vaccine clinics are held at Pulaski Park on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon (in severe weather, the backup location is Memorial Hall, 240 Main St.); City Council Chambers at 212 Main St., behind City Hall, on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and at Northampton High School on Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m.

Each location offers the first and second Pfizer shots, one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the second Moderna shot. At the high school, the second Moderna shot is available by requesting it in advance from the Health Department.

The vaccine is free for everyone and no appointment is necessary, but registering online is encouraged to save time. The link can be found at northamptonma.gov/2219/Vaccine-Clinics.

“While vaccine breakthrough cases can and do occur, vaccination offers the greatest protection against both infection and severe illness with COVID-19,” the Health Department wrote. “The more people who are vaccinated will help reduce opportunities for evolution of future variants of COVID-19.”

To join Monday’s Board of Health meeting, which takes place at 5:30 p.m., the Zoom meeting ID is 83944035202 and the passcode is 811161. To join by phone, call 312-626-6799 and use the same passcode.

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

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