Face Coverings Will be Required in Public in Watertown, Violators Will Face a Fine

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The Watertown Board of Health voted to require that people wear face coverings when out in public, indoors and out, or face a fine. The order is a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Town Health Director Larry Ramdin.

The board voted to approve the order, which will take effect Monday, May 4 and requires anyone age 5 or older to wear something that covers their nose and mouth while in public places, but not necessarily a face mask. Other options include bandanas or scarfs that cover the nose and mouth.

Exceptions will be made for children under age 5, as well as people who have health conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing a face covering. To read the Emergency Order follow the link in the Town Manager’s Update by clicking here.

Public places include indoor spots such as businesses and other locations open to the public. Outdoors, it includes all publicly owned land, such as streets, sidewalks, parks and playgrounds. It does not include outdoor spaces on people’s properties, such as yards. Face coverings do not have to be worn while people are inside cars, Ramdin added.

The fine would be $300, but whether to levy the fine would be at the discretion of the town health official or police officer enforcing the order. The fine is the same as in other nearby communities, such as Cambridge and Somerville, which have passed similar measures.

The latest COVID-19 figures in Watertown are 266 positive cases, 11 fatalities, 58 recovered and 197 active cases, Ramdin said.

The board received numerous letters and comments during the meeting with the majority of letters in support, Ramdin said, while others opposed it. Those participating in the meeting, which was held remotely using the Zoom app, mostly opposed putting a requirement for people to wear masks.

Ramdin said that the Coronavirus is a very unusual situation, and he does not believe enough people are complying with the face covering advisory issued by the CDC.

“We as a community need to move past own needs and wants and really think together. We are in this together,” Ramdin said. “This is extremely unusual. We have not seen a disease of this virulence since maybe the 1918 Spanish Flu or maybe Smallpox. We have to keep each other away from each other to keep this down. We have to understand is an unusual circumstance. Doing the things we usually do is not something we can afford to do right now. We all have to do our part to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Resident Input

Multiple people who commented during the meeting said they believe people are practicing social distancing when the go out, and believed the order unnecessarily forces people to wear face coverings. Some residents who participated in the meeting online said they believed it violated personal freedoms.

More than one person said that they did not think just because other communities, such as Cambridge and Somerville, required face coverings, that Watertown should follow suit. People noted that Watertown is not as dense as, say, Somerville.

Also opposed to the measure were people who run or bicycle. One man who said he has run the Boston Marathon several times, compared wearing a face covering while running to being waterboarded. A woman who bicycles frequently and does so in the street with other vehicles, said a face covering causes her glasses to fog up. She said that makes it dangerous because she cannot see other vehicles.

Several people said that they have seen the number of cases begin to drop in Massachusetts, and some said they have not seen any studies showing that not wearing face masks spread COVID-19.

A physician who lives in Watertown commented that he has never seen a disease like COVID-19 and described the impact on those infected as devastating. He favored the face covering requirement.

Board of Health Comments

One of the Board of Health members, Dr. Barbara Beck, said that she recently read about a study that when people run it causes a vortex around them which makes the droplets with the Coronavirus inside in the air smaller and they linger in the air longer. The study, which looked at models of air currents around runners but did not look specifically at COVID-19 droplets, was reported on by the New York Times.

Board member Richard Arnold noted that many people who have been exposed to the Coronavirus do not show any symptoms sometimes called asymptomatic carriers, and may not know they could infect others.

“I have been at Watertown resident for 35 years, and my family is based here. I understand, truly, we are all being asked to do significant hardship in various forms,” Arnold said. “Whether or not we have a close relative who is ill or passed away, we understand this is an unusual time, and this will pass and we will come out of this. But, we need to support each other, and this can create further hardship for me as an individual but we have to look at the community at large. We do have vulnerable people in the community who are at risk.”

Dr. John Straus, chair of the Board of Health, said that he believes that the requirement to wear a covering or mask will help people feel safe when they go out. He added that wearing face coverings could be a long-term thing, even after more businesses open and restrictions are lifted.

“When people to go out we want them to feel safe,” Straus said. “They are not going to go out if they do not feel safe.” 

Board members did not want the fine to be required any time that people are seen out without a face covering. Ramdin said that the fine will be for those who do it multiple times, or who are judged to be flagrantly violating the order.

“They will not be chasing people down or waiting behind a bush looking to give a fine,” Ramdin said. “It gives us the ability to fine if people who are multiple violators.”

Some of the commenters said they thought the $300 fine was too high, and could be hard for some people to handle financially. Ramdin said that the fine needs to be large enough to get people’s attention, and not too small that people would feel it is worth just paying it and not wear the face coverings.

“If make a fine that is payable then it becomes a cost of doing business,” Ramdin said. “Then violations continue. The fines have to be a deterrent.”

40 thoughts on “Face Coverings Will be Required in Public in Watertown, Violators Will Face a Fine

  1. “The fine would be $300, but whether to levy the fine would be at the discretion of the town health official or police officer enforcing the order.”

    So if the cop or official knows you, you won’t be fined. I see. I don’t know any cops or officials. But with the reduced auto traffic, it’s a great way for the police and town to write tickets and get revenue.

    Do I have to wear a mask when I am driving my car and having a smoke? Or will the cop pull me over? “License and registration, please. Why are you out?”

    Why not just do what some countries are doing: Require written permission (you can do it online) from the authorities (or the cops) to leave your residence.

    After all, if you’re not doing anything “essential” why go out at all? Can any of you answer that question? No, you can’t.

    There has to be a truly “essential” reason, as defined by the Board. It’s not up to you to conduct your own life anymore.

    Just going to CVS for a couple of candy bars or newspaper is not a good reason. Why tend your garden – it’s not “essential”, is it? Why walk your dog? Let the dog do his thing in the back yard.

    Why doesn’t the Board pass these rules? Then there would be very few people spreading or getting Covid-19. We’d all be a lot safer. You’re not against safety are you?

    Come to think of it, why are landscapers allowed to conduct business? I see them all the time now. Can anyone answer that question?

    If you can’t cut your hair (salons are closed), why can you cut your grass? Can anyone explain that?

  2. So what’s the plan for the town to distribute masks? Other towns have handed them out. If they are really serious about this, masks should be made available to Watertown residents.

  3. So, just to be clear, they’re mailing all residents a mask to wear free of charge, right? Or are we supposed to risk getting fined by going out to pick one up at… a store that’s closed? Using money from the job we no longer have?

    For almost 4 months we’ve all been told non-stop how important it is to not buy any masks to save them for healthcare workers, now they’re charging us $300 for following their exact guidance?

    I don’t own any scarves, am I just supposed to not leave my house until “notice is given that it is no longer necessary, or the Board of Health declares that a Public Health Emergency no longer exists”?

    • You can wear anything that covers your face — bandana, part of a t-shirt, two socks tied together, all free of charge, assuming you have some cloth-based clothing in your home. You don’t need to purchase a mask of any kind, or own an official “scarf” garment.

  4. I’m glad that the town is taking this step, and that they left sensible outs for people who are very young or who have specific health conditions that mean they truly cannot wear a mask. Some of the commenters seem not to have read the article — for example, you don’t have to wear a mask, just a face covering. Here is a link to a video from a guy who shows how to make a mask but cutting up an old T-shirt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJaVBt8q6g8
    Bottom line: if we all wear masks, we keep the disease from spreading to the people it will kill. Seems worth it to me. Not too much to ask.

  5. Yes all the selfish, self-absorbed, and ignorant people who don’t care about anybody but themselves. But now I think the town has got their attention and I hope that they levy fines to make people comply. I think the fine should be applied at the RMV and they’ll pay it one way or the other when they have to go and renew their license, or their registration or anything having to do with redoing something there they’ll get caught and made to pay. All the whiners and complainers are all the people who are just selfish.


    • So I am selfish because I am questioning that wearing face masks outside while maintaining distance will help curb the spread of this disease? I am limiting my trips to stores, and only for essential purposes, and I certainly wear a face mask in those stores due to the recycled air and numerous studies that coronavirus can spread indoors. I haven’t seen friends or family that I don’t live with in 7 weeks. I am taking this very seriously and my thoughts and prayers go to anyone who has been affected.

      That doesn’t change the fact that this is a completely unnecessary act and overreach by the town. The science is unproven, and in fact, states the opposite. It is EXTREMELY unlikely to catch the virus while passing by someone on the street. Watertown is not so densely populated where you can’t keep 6 feet from others. In my daily walks, I have easily been able to keep distance from anyone I encounter.

      I have done my own research on the issue and I suggest others do the same before blindly agreeing with government mandates.

  6. I agree with wearing a face covering in shops, busy areas, banks, markets, etc although if face coverings have to be worn in restaurants then how are people expected to eat and drink?

    As for being required when outside, that seems a bit much. With respect to the outdoors it should have been worded very differently. Maybe if you are on a busy path then YES but certainly not needed if you are walking down a sidewalk with no others in sight.

    And yes other towns are put these requirements in but in neighboring Belmont they have not added in outdoor space. I think Watertown officials need to rethink and reword their policy on this.



    • Agreed. I also wish that the town had allowed more time for discussion and debate of this issue. The fact that many people are outside without face coverings now suggests that many people do not believe they should be required.

  7. This is a total joke implemented by these Cambridge wannabees. It is ridiculous!
    Help me understand this! 3 clowns on our board of health and a health director who does not live in our great town get to make this decision? No town council vote or real input from the residents? I would love it if Chief Lawn pushed back and said he won’t put the great police officers of Watertown in a position to enforce this. Also what is the exit plan? Is this for 1 week, 2 weeks do we have any time-frame for this? Who will supply the masks that we were asked not to by and can’t find? Just like the governor’s plan to close everything down, that was easy to do, going back to normal is hard. Nobody plans for that. Folks this is the time to be heard and push back hard.

    • Mark you don’t want to get this disease. If you listen to Chris Cuomo describing his experience recovering, you’d know it is not the flu. They have now found that the virus attacks organs like the heart and kidneys causing permanent damage as well as damage to the lungs. It’s no freakin’ joke.

      I do agree that the town has done a poor job with this. They should be distributing decent masks because it will help with compliance in many ways. I think that there should be exceptions for outdoor places where it is easy to distance. The fine is too high–Watertown is not as well heeled as its neighbors.

      But this would not be necessary if not for the knuckleheads that I have seen in Star Market and our own Watertown markets and other public places who won’t wear a mask and won’t keep their distance. So if you are one of these people, you can blame it on yourself. Your lack of caring at a time of crisis has resulted in this.

      • You are right I don’t want to get this. I know a few healthy people who have gotten Covid-19. They are also early fifties like me and said it kicked the crap out of them. However they fully recovered and described it as a bad flu (i know it’s not the flu). As for Chris “fred0” Cuomo he is an actor and sensationalist. He’s not a jounalist so take him with a grain of salt. The hysteria need to stop.

  8. I absolutely agree with this decision by the Board of Health. It makes us all much safer if everyone is wearing masks – and those masks are extremely easy to make, just using a square piece of cloth and two rubber bands, no sewing required. There is a link to these directions in the latest Town Manager’s message on Covid-19.

  9. All the whining on this comment board is laughable. Waaah! I have to wear a mask. That’s a violation of my civil rights. Cry me a friggin’ river.

    People are dying at alarming rates here in the Boston area. People should be wearing masks when they are out in public and in close proximity to others. Unfortunately, many aren’t, and therefore this law needed to be passed.

    I was at Home Depot today and was shocked to see approximately 50% of the EMPLOYEES there NOT wearing masks! I was at Whole Foods in Cambridge two weeks ago and many of the employees weren’t wearing masks either. What is wrong with them? Don’t they want to protect themselves? Don’t they want to protect the shoppers? Why isn’t Home Depot and Whole Foods supplying masks for these employees and mandating that they wear them at all times? Is this too much to ask? No, it isn’t.

    When people aren’t being responsible, the government needs to step in to babysit. Sorry folks. You’ll survive.

    • Thanks for the comments, everyone. This is obviously an emotional issue. Please keep comments about the issues, but do not attack others, whether a specific person or group. You can get your point across without attacking others.

    • “We don’t need your type.” Ouch! Way to have a civil argument, dude. Despite you’re opinion, I think there’s room in Watertown for both liberal, creative type folks AND old, bitter townies.

      Masks are needed. The proof lies in the science. If you don’t believe in the science though, we’ll that’s your problem.

  10. I feel like I’m a pretty reasonable individual, but the mandatory mask medical theatre is just a step too far. There is ZERO constitutional basis for town government to imprison people in their homes if they don’t wear a mask. Declaring a “rule” like this exposes the town to litigation which costs ALL residents money. People will sue to block this, and they will sue to recover any illegal fines that result from a policy like this. Even if we assume that imprisonment without due legal process didn’t violate the US and State Constitutions, there is ZERO scientific medical proof that masks prevent the spread of Coronavirus. On the contrary, the fact that THOUSANDs of medical professionals here in MA have contracted Coronavirus, while wearing the best PPE available and while actually being properly trained how to use it, conclusively proves that masks don’t stop the spread of Coronavirus. For anyone with common sense, this makes perfect sense since Coronavirus is 1 micron in size, but N95 masks are only designed to filter down to 3 microns. BUT here’s the best part… Even if a N95 mask actually prevented the spread of Coronavirus, there is absolutely no way Watertown residents can get one. They aren’t legally for sale to the public for ANY amount of money. So, now we are left with a useless policy that forces residents to use a piece of loose cloth tied over their face to leave the house. Running, walking or biking with a piece of loose cloth that doesn’t seal to your face doesn’t stop ANY germs from being spread. Biking in the middle of the street is NO different from driving with your windows down, yet drivers don’t require masks. All of this is just authoritarian make-believe feel-good theater. I’m all for people wearing masks if it makes them feel better, and of course any private business is certainly legally allowed to ban people from entering their business if they like, but exposing the town to legal litigation by trying to pass a meaningless, unconstitutional “mask in public rule” is stupid. This kind of authoritarian over-reach is exactly the kind of stupid government policy that fuels right wing hatred of government and creates support for their extremism. Everything about this policy is the absolute last thing Watertown needs right now.

  11. The Boston Globe, no less, just ran a story noting that many masks in use among first responders DO NOT WORK. Some filter about half of airborne particles, some barely a quarter. Yet we are advised to throw any old garment around our face for the safety of ourselves and others when going outside. Welcome to pandemic theater, where it’s more important to show compliance than to think for yourself and use judgement and sense. If the virus is so perilous to our health, what good will a Rolling Stones t-shirt over my face do? And who is the one endangering people by suggesting it? I take the situation very seriously, trust me. But this is a fundamentally un-serious dictat.

    • The Board of Health discussed that issue. The face masks do not protect the person wearing it like a medical grade mask would. They do however help prevent the person wearing them from potentially spreading COVID-19 when they breathe out.

  12. A very reasonable questions to The Watertown Board of Health and Town Health Director Larry Ramdin. Why May 4th why not today and why not during the peak of this, not now when we are on the very back end of this pandemic. But much more serious and most important for how long? At what date will this edict be lifted? I think they owe us that. It would be great if Charlie could get them to respond.

  13. Watertown is backward on this stuff. Why shut the parks–the perfect place to walk with excellent social distance? Why mandate face covering which will encourage people to jettison appropriate distance? There is VERY little evidence that Covid 19 lingers in the air outside. And this move is dangerous for cyclists. Can’t we trust individuals to keep themselves safe? I wear a mask at the grocery store but not on a walk. Not that difficult. The last thing someone alone without a mask needs is someone WALKING UP CLOSE to hand them a “face mask” ticket.

  14. Charlie: you cite Larry Ramdin saying that masks do not need to be worn in cars. The emergency order does not say that and can be interpreted to mean the opposite. I hope BOH and town clarify this formally on their website. And yes, it would be nice if there were an enforcement consideration for places and occasions where it is in fact very easy to maintain very considerable distance. Thanks.

  15. I work for a hospital. I just created a infographic for them that gives the rates of transmission between masked and unmasked people. While there are not hard and fast percentages, it’s pretty obvious that it helps:

    UNmasked person has a HIGH probability of passing this to a MASKED person.
    MASKED person has a LOW probability of passing this to an UNmasked person.
    MASKED person has the LOWEST probability of passing this to a MASKED person.

  16. I do strongly support any commonsense measures to contain and limit the spread of this virus. Inside buildings and stores near others absolutely makes sense. This on the other hand is an outrageous overreach and a blatant infringement on personal liberty. No evidence that I have seen shows that anyone keeping 6 or more feet away from others in the outside open air is a real risk. This is a DANGEROUS deep dive down the slippery slope. What will happen next year when they tell you that you have to shelter in place for 3 days because we may have a big snowstorm and you may slip and fall or get in a fender bender. This is totally out of control and needs to be fiercely resisted. If I am walking down the street outside by myself, LEAVE ME ALONE!! The town of Watertown has no right to tell me how I have to live my life.

  17. The key to social distance is social distance. If you are over 6 feet away from other people and outside, you do not need a mask.

    Stuck on a crowded elevator for an hour, pull on an n95.

    I do not understand why Watertown could not make the rules more nuanced. Even Charlie Baker says no mask is needed for a walk. And he gives his updates every day without a mask bc he maintains appropriate distance.

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