Board of Health Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate Citing Sharp Increases in COVID-19 Cases

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People must wear face masks or coverings in Watertown while inside after the Board of Health reinstated the indoor face covering mandate Monday night.

Health Director Larry Ramdin said cases of COVID-19 in Watertown have increased sharply since early November, and recommended the indoor face mask mandate be reinstated. The Board of Health voted unanimously to start the mandate on Dec. 21, 2021, and it will be in effect until rescinded by the Board.

“We have had an explosion of cases in Town since the 3rd of November,” Ramdin said.

During the week of Nov. 3, Watertown had 54 positive cases of COVID-19, Ramdin said, and the most recent week there were 163 cases.

Board of Health member Barbara Beck said the numbers of hospitalizations have increased at a similar rate statewide. On Oct. 31, there were 531 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Massachusetts, and as of Dec. 21 there were 4,513.

“The hospitalizations have gone up three fold and the case positive rate has gone up three fold as well, so it is clear we are seeing an increase with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly,” Beck said. “Although we recognize that (Omicron) is not necessarily more virulent, I think it is an appropriate public health measure.”

The cases are also rising in Middlesex County, said Board of Health member Richard Arnold. He added that the cases are rising in the region despite the high vaccination rates.

“This variant is affecting vaccinated as well as unvaccinated, with maybe different degrees of acuity,” Arnold said. “This being said I fully support the mask mandate given the current state we are in, with the understanding that as we get more data and more information in the months to come we can, as we did in the past, step back from that mandate.”

The members voted 2-0 to pass the order (the third seat is vacant after the retirement of Dr. John Straus).

The order passed by the Board of Health reads, in part: “Pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 111, Secs. 31 and 122, the Watertown Board of Health adopts a public health mandate effective December 22, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. requiring face coverings for all persons at all times when inside public spaces or private spaces open to the public.” Read the whole order by clicking here.

The mandate applies to people ages 5 and over, Beck said, and there are exceptions for people with medical conditions or disabilities who are unable to wear a face covering.

The Watertown Health Department will enforce the mandate, and may impose a fine of $300.

Face masks will be required in restaurants and dining establishments except when customers are seated. In bars, people may remove their masks when seated at tables or the bar, but must wear them while standing or ordering at the bar.

At hair salons, nail salons and other personal services establishments face coverings must be worn by customers, except while having services directly on the face or beard care.

At performance venues patrons may remove their mask only to eat or drink. Performers can remove their masks if they are 25 feet or more from the audience.

The mandate also applies to gyms and fitness centers, houses of worship, transportation including ride shares and taxis, private membership clubs, and common areas and hallways in hotels and apartment complexes.

Watertown previously had an indoor mask mandate from Aug. 25 to Oct. 21.

34 thoughts on “Board of Health Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate Citing Sharp Increases in COVID-19 Cases

  1. Thank you for protecting all of us from a slight headache and mild body chills. We owe you our lives for demanding masks be worn once more.

  2. The City of Watertown is acting against the wishes of its citizens and businesses. I surveyed 50 employers and employees of Watertown this past week and 70% of them said they did not want a mask mandate to be enforced in town and would like the decision to be left up to individual business owners.

    Out of 25 Watertown business owners I surveyed, 15 did not want this mandate passed, while eight of them did and two were undecided. 6 out of 8 store managers were also against a mandate.

    Here are some reasons they gave for leaving the decision up to business owners:
    The more people are wearing face masks, the worse communication is for everyone. Several business owners told me that they make costly mistakes because they cannot understand customers with face masks on or the staff has a difficult time understanding each other when they are wearing masks. These mistakes cost our city businesses time and money.

    Some restaurant workers and owners told me how difficult it is for their Cooks to work for hours with a mask on over a hot oven. One restaurant owner lost cooks when they were forced to wear a face mask, which cost him time and money to hire and train new ones.

    Others I surveyed said they were tired of fighting with customers coming into their shop about having to put a mask on. For many people, they would prefer to allow customers to choose for themselves if they want to wear a mask or not rather than trying to enforce the town’s policy.

    Despite presenting this evidence from Watertown businesses to the Board of Health, they said that because positive covid case rates went up from 0.01% to 0.025% it was necessary to “protect the health and safety of the community.”

    Yet, the Mandate allows people to take their masks off in restaurants to eat and drink. And it also allows business owners to discriminate against people who have a medical condition and cannot wear a mask. Sure, the wording of the mandate says businesses are allowed to refuse entrance to those not wearing a mask for “non-medical reasons,” but there is absolutely no way that someone with a medical condition or disability can prove that they have one. In fact, under the American Disability Act law, no person, including business owners, are allowed to ask someone about their disability.

    After speaking to people in town myself and being a part of the Board of Health meeting last night, the only question I have left on my mind is:
    Whatever happened to Democracy?

    • 25 or 50 people out of a town of 35,000 is hardly a big survey. We actually just had an election and any city council candidate could have run on a platform of ending COVID restrictions in Watertown. The incoming at-large councilors all got around 3,000 votes. I wonder how many votes a candidate running on this platform would have gotten? My guess is somewhat less.

      We decide things by vote, not by who happens not to be busy on a Wednesday at 7:00 to attend a Board of Health meeting. Now that’s Democracy.

      • We can vote for Town Council members, not Board of Health members, and not for City Managers who appoint Board members.

        And yes, I wish I had time to do a larger sample size for the survey. Perhaps my next one will focus on consumers in Watertown rather than the business owners and workers. It will be interesting to see if there’s a difference.

  3. “Although we recognize that (Omicron) is not necessarily more virulent…”

    No it’s not just necessarily, it’s in fact not even close to as virulent or deadly as previous variants as has been shown in the countries where omnicron is the prevalent virus. Why that wasn’t factored into this mandate order is irresponsible and just an uneccessary overreach. Of course hospitalizations are up, why wouldn’t they take the free money that this fear mongering has allowed. Just more unneeded meddling from govt officials so they can all pay themselves on the back for “saving” mankind

    • To suggest that hospitals are taking advantage to “fear mongering” for financial is a despicable lie and an insult to the healthcare workers who have risked their own lives to take care of the sick.

      No wonder you didn’t sign your name to this malicious post.

      • Hey joe what’s your comment on the healthcare workers who risked their lives for 2+ years only to be fired for not being vaccinated? What’s your comment on there being plenty of available beds in a pandemic but not enough staff to man them? Almost like health care is doing this to themselves on purpose?

    • Do our part in what? What is it you think we are doing by this performative Covid hygiene theater? Legitimately what do you think you are providing me by wearing your cloth mask at the supermarket?

    • No lets stop with fear mongering and lies. Does wearing a mask to walk in a restaurant bit tou take it off 10 ft away do anything. No. This board is not acting on any scientific data as all. Vote them out

      • The Board of Health is not voted in or out. City board members are interviewed and appointed by the City Manager.

        Current Manager, Michael Driscoll is leaving next month and Watertown will be hiring a new manager hopefully soon after. Though it seems there will be an acting manager until they hire someone else.

        Some Board appointments must also be approved by the City Council, though I don’t know if that’s the case for the Board of Health.

        More info on the City Charter: https://ecode360.com/36824201?highlight=board,board%20of,board%20of%20health,boards,of&searchId=373874030603079#36824201
        I couldn’t find any particular information about how the Board of Health is formed, whether it’s by Manager appointment alone or if it requires Town Council to approve.

  4. Such opposition to public health measures boggles my mind. I lost my Step-Brother to Covid a month ago, I myself had Covid a year ago and I am still having lung issues. I will continue to wear my mask because I DON’T WANT TO GET COVID A SECOND TIME, and if people can’t hear you with a mask on, SPEAK LOUDER, it’s not that difficult to care about your fellow human beings. How many more people have to die?

  5. These officials are out of control….the vast majority of people I come in contact with are against any mask mandate…this variant is essentially a cold. I just won’t spend my money at these places that implement these “FOOLISH” mandates…AMF!!!!

    • Well… according to the article you just cited “There is no question it is beneficial to wear any face covering, both for protection in close proximity and at a distance in a room”. Read much?

      • You’re choosing to leave out other important information that gives actual context to the quote you used.:
        ‘However, there is a very serious difference in the effectiveness of different masks when it comes to controlling aerosols.’

        If you go to the original study link, here is the other info you find:
        “The study showed that most common masks, primarily due to problems with fit, filter about 10 per cent of exhaled aerosol droplets. The remaining aerosols are redirected, mostly out the top of the mask where it fits over the nose, and escape into the ambient air unfiltered.”

        In other words, 90% of the germy air we exhale through our cloth masks escapes around us.

        https://uwaterloo.ca/news/media/study-supports-widespread-use-better-masks-curb-covid-19

  6. Even during the time that the city rescinded it’s mask mandate, I’ve found most people continued to abide mask-wearing in public — which is just to say, many people in Watertown understand the severity of COVID and are willing to take the small and effective measures to protect themselves and their neighbors. This is the right move, and one that will positively affect our more vulnerable neighbors, including young children who are unable to be vaccinated, the immunocompromised, and those working in public-facing jobs who are unable to limit their interactions with others. If you’re a person who cares about those around you, this will likely not change your behavior. If you’re steeped in misinformation or otherwise prone to self-centeredness like some of the commenters here — well, that’s too bad, hope you have your masks handy. It’s true many people experience mild symptoms, but it’s also true than 800,000 people have died from COVID in the US alone. If you refuse to believe the latter, you’re lucky or misinformed or both.

  7. Reading some of the foolishness above, I wonder what my Dad would say if he were still around. His generation experienced great hardship growing up in the Great Depression and made incredible sacrifices in order to win WWII. But they pulled together and did what they needed to do.

    I suspect Dad would be dismayed that we cannot even get it together to wear masks to protect our loved ones and neighbors in this great public health crisis.

    People grow up and act responsibly. It’s the only way to rid ourselves of this plague.

  8. I have an idea that could really help with compliance.

    Post the names and addresses of the noble citizens who report mask violations as well as the businesses they reported in the public crime log so we can all personally thank them.

  9. Ignore the nonsense. You can’t be forced to wear a mask. It’s not illegal and not being enforced by police.
    Stand up for yourself and make it your choice.

    • If common sense was in effect here, no one would have to be told to wear a mask. They would already know to do so! Common sense is not at all common, sadly.

      • Well the “common sense” opinion is opinion only in this situation.

        The so called “science” isn’t settled here. I have read just as many health experts that say masks do nothing as say that masks work. So let’s just accept that people trust the opinions of differing experts and allow them to do as they choose as a free people in a supposedly free nation.

    • That might be true if it only impacted yourself. However, your decisions on this matter impact your fellow Americans–you can make them sick with your carelessness–and also impact healthcare workers who are stretching themselves to take care of the sick.

  10. How exactly will the health dept fine people…This situation raises problems….

    They haven’t the authority to require a citizen to supply ID

    They don’t have the power of arrest.
    How many of them are employed by the town?
    Have these health dept employees been trained in how to control an aggressive citizen?

    I don’t think the two individuals who decreed this out of the 35,000 Watertown inhabitants who had no input thought this through.

    I know I won’t care what any health dept employee has to say and I certainly won’t identify myself to any town employees other than police.

  11. Most people are wearing the blue masks. There have been tons of articles stating that those masks and regular cloth masks don’t do anything to stop the virus as people handle them poorly. By wearing the cloth masks and reusing them and not washing them frequently enough and constantly touching them while they are on their face, they are exposing themselves to more germs. Only the N95 masks are effective on the small particles. To have patrons wear a mask in a restaurant setting is ludicrous. To say it’s OK for someone to stand at a bar maskless and yet have to wear one at a table is ridiculous. We need to help out our businesses, especially now after they did so much to survive last year. If a business owner feels strongly about the masks, let them post a notice on their entrance and risk losing some customers. This pandemic has been mishandled from the beginning and yet government leaders and none of the mainstream media will admit it. The omicron virus is proving to be a less virulent variant and we should not allow it to destroy our lives. We have to get used to living with the variants for as long as they survive. Most people survive the flu and most will survive covid. If people have comorbidities, especially being very obese, they need to make their own decisions on staying healthy. We shouldn’t force controls on the rest of the population. Let Freedom Ring.

  12. If you think masks work, wear one. If you think the shot works, get one..i mean two..oh, and a booster.
    Now you are fully protected, right? So if someone chooses not to get the shot and not be masked it should have no affect on you since you are masked and got the shots, right?
    Or do you not believe that masks and shots work?
    You make your choices and allow others to make theirs.

  13. Thanks to all the “medical experts” here who are sharing their amateur, uneducated wisdom.

    As for me, I’ll keep listening to the real ones — who actually know what they’re talking about.

    If that makes me a “sheep”, then all I can say is “baahh”!!

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