Northampton relaxes mask-wearing rules

  • Pedestrians walk downtown in Northampton last week. The city has announced changes in its mask-wearing regulations, effective immediately GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2021 7:59:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Starting Thursday, face masks are no longer required outdoors when 6 feet of social distancing can be maintained, the city’s health department announced Wednesday.

Since last spring, Northampton has required that people wear masks — with some exceptions — at all times downtown, in city parks and recreation areas, on the bike path, and any place where 6 feet of social distance isn’t possible. The restriction will be lifted Thursday, and state rules will be in effect, according to the health department.

Other communities are also considering changes to face-covering rules. In Amherst, the Board of Health will meet May 13 at 5 p.m. to consider relaxing the rule it adopted last August mandating that masks be worn in the downtown area. Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the town tries to remain aligned with state rules. Easthampton is following the state guidelines and relaxed rules for mask-wearing within its borders as of Friday.

Masks are still required in indoor public places and at outdoor events, state rules say. Examples include when people are inside or waiting in line outside of grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, and restaurants; providing or using the services of any public or shared transportation; public streets and ways where physical distancing of at least 6 feet cannot be maintained; and any location, including hotels, event venues and private clubs, that hosts indoor or outdoor events or performances.

According to the rules, face coverings are optional outdoors when at least 6 feet of social distance from people can be maintained, including public parks, bike paths, walkways, and other outdoor settings, though this does not include venues, hotels, and other businesses that host indoor or outdoor events. They also are optional when communicating with someone who has a hearing impairment or other disability; when eating or drinking in restaurants, receiving dental care, or participating in water sports and swimming; or in private outdoor and indoor settings, in small groups with members of the same household or non-household members.

There are several reasons for the change, Health Department Director Merridith O’Leary said in a statement.

“Notably, there has been significant decrease in case counts across the state and here in Northampton,” O’Leary wrote. “While it is not time to become complacent by any means, more stringent face covering requirements do not reflect the current status of transmission risk in the state or the municipality.”

With social distancing, the risk of transmitting COVID-19 outdoors is significantly reduced, “the largest drivers of spread are social gatherings, events, and other crowded settings indoors where distancing is difficult to maintain and the air is not as well-ventilated as it is outdoors,” O’Leary noted. “While not entirely impossible, it is statistically much less likely that the virus will spread between people who are outside and also distanced.”

As of April 30, there were 21 active COVID-19 cases in Northampton, according to the Health Department’s most recently publicly posted data. As of late April, 21% of residents had received at last one vaccine shot, and 40% are fully vaccinated, according to the data.

For more information about the rules or access to vaccine, contact the Northampton Health Department at healthdept@northamptonma.gov or at (413) 587-1219.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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