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Northampton orders use of face coverings at essential businesses

  • Karen Kubasek, right, wears a mask and gloves while working the checkout counter at Foster Farrar, a hardware store in Northampton, Monday, Mar. 23, 2020.   GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Georgianna Brunton, the owner of Miss Florence Diner, disinfects a countertop, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tamara Lawrence wears a mask as she delivers an order of food to Dan Gleason of Northampton at Miss Florence Diner, Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Georgianna Brunton, the owner of Miss Florence Diner, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Georgianna Brunton, the owner of Miss Florence Diner, disinfects a countertop, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joe Roberts wears a mask as he pumps gas for a customer at Florence Towing and Auto Repair, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tamara Lawrence wears a mask as she takes an order to a customer at Miss Florence Diner, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tamara Lawrence wears a mask as she readies an order for curbside pick-up at Miss Florence Diner, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ashley Johns puts a masks on before entering Pop's Package store to compile with the new order from the Northampton Public Health Department. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ashley Johns puts a mask on before entering Pop’s Package store to comply with the new order from the Northampton Public Health Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jaspal Singh, an employee at Pop's Package store in Northampton, waits on Ashley Johns. Both of them are required to wear masks as part of a new order from the Northampton Public Health Department. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pam Kaur, the owners wife with Jaspal Singh, both employees at Pop's Package store in Northampton, wear masks to wait on customers. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2020 10:12:48 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Ellen Hartwell, who lives on Riverside Drive, has been wearing a mask when she goes out to the store for weeks.

“It’s protecting the people I come in contact with,” said Hartwell.

Now, many more people will have to follow her lead.

The city has issued a new order mandating that customers and employees of businesses that provide essential services wear face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s part of our ongoing efforts to keep our residents safe,” said Mayor David Narkewicz. The order from Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary will go into effect Thursday. It makes face coverings mandatory for all employees on the premises of an essential business, unless they can maintain social distancing; face coverings will be mandatory for all customers on those sites, regardless of social distancing.

“It’s another layer that may help reduce transmission,” said O’Leary. “It’s the least that we can do.”

For employees who cannot maintain proper social distancing, employers are required to provide cloth masks or other face coverings, as well as fresh face coverings every four hours an employee is on the premises. There is a grace period of up to a week in which employees may bring in their own face coverings until employers get their own supply. Employers are also responsible for cleaning the face coverings they provide before they are reused.

While there are specific requirements for employer-provided face coverings, customers are only required under the order to wear a cloth face covering that securely covers the nose and mouth, which could be a scarf or bandana.

“We don’t want to deny access to food,” said O’Leary.

Dave Singh, owner of Pop’s Package Store, is supportive of the order.

“It’s good for everybody,” said Singh, who noted that his store already has signs asking customers to social distance and wear masks.

Additionally, those working at the store wear masks and gloves.

John Richi, owner of Pro Lube Auto Center, said that he’s been trying to buy masks for his employees for weeks and that masks are set to be delivered next week.

“It’s not easy to come up with this stuff,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to force businesses to do.”

Richi noted that his employees change the rubber gloves they wear after each job. He also said that no one, outside of people in health care, washes their hands more than those in the automotive industry.

Georgie Brunton, who owns Miss Florence Diner, said she appreciates that the mandate allows people to not wear masks if they can maintain social distance, noting that the crew at the diner is currently her, a prep cook, and a server.

“I have a huge kitchen,” she said.

She did note, however, that the server does wear a mask.

Brunton also expressed support for the order.

“We have to do what we have to do,” she said.

Brunton said that she has an order for masks that’s on a two-week hold, and that she’ll be going to Wal-Mart to get supplies to make homemade ones. She also said that they already have some masks at the diner that were provided by a customer.

As with other COVID-19-related orders issued by the city’s Health Department, the first violation of the order will result in a warning while the second will result in a $300 fine. The mayor said, however, that fining people is not the purpose of the order.

“We want people to take responsibility,” he said.

The Health Department and Narkewicz urged residents to stay at home in a press release about the order issued Tuesday evening.

“If you must go out because you are out of food or medication, wearing a mask, or even a bandana across your nose and mouth, is a small measure of protection,” intended to accompany other personal protection guidance, states the release.

It also includes guidance on how to properly use a face covering, such as sanitizing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub before applying it; closely covering one’s mouth and nose with the face covering; replacing it with a new one after long use (four hours) or as soon as it is damp; and not reusing single-use masks.

Residents should not take it upon themselves to enforce the order and should focus on their own personal compliance, according to the city. Children under age 2 and children who may compromise mask integrity by frequently removing or manipulating it, as well individuals who are unable to wear a face covering due to underlying health and safety reasons, are not required to wear one. Additionally, the order doesn’t apply to outdoor areas where proper social distancing can be maintained.

Northampton and Cooley Dickinson Hospital are partnering to collect, launder, package and distribute face coverings.

“Teaming up to provide a centralized distribution point seemed to make really good sense,” said Narkewicz.

Pickups of face coverings are at the Northampton Health Department by appointment.

Residents who wish to donate approved face coverings can drop them off at Cooley Dickinson’s North Entrance Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, while residents and businesses in need of masks can visit northamptonma.gov/2104/COVID-19-Coronavirus or call 413-587-1214.

Correction: The name of John Richi, owner of Pro Lube Auto Center, was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@ gazettenet.com.


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