The indoor face mask requirement in Watertown was lifted by the Board of Health on Wednesday night.
The latest face covering mandate was put into place on Dec. 22, 2021 when COVID cases were on the rise when the Omicron variant hit the area. Watertown reached a peak of 1,131 active cases on Jan. 19, and they have declined since then, said Watertown Health Director Larry Ramdin.
The end of the mandate is effective at the beginning of the day on Thursday, Feb. 24. Board of Health member Barbara Beck said that people should still feel welcome to wear masks.
“In no way does this take away from individuals who, for personal reasons, want to wear a mask or face covering and for individuals who face increased risk and cannot be vaccinated for reasons of age or being immunocompromised or other risk factors,” Beck said.
The Board of Health had to decide when the change should take effect. Board of Health member Rich Arnold said he thought it should start Thursday.
“My feeling is, unfortunately the meeting was delayed by a week, and I suspect we were in a similar position a week ago but were unable to meet and (remove the mandate),” Arnold said. “I recommend we do it as soon as possible.”
The order approved by the Board of Health does not apply to the Watertown Public Schools or places where they are required by the Federal Government and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Ramdin said he wants to leave the decision of wearing face masks in schools up to Watertown School officials, and he noted that the State’s requirement for wearing face masks in schools ends on Feb. 28.
“Schools are on vacation, and the School Committee does not meet until the 7th (of March),” Ramdin said. “Because they operate under different rules for COVID, I think we should give the School Department the opportunity to deal with it within the educational situations.”
Beck said that Federal rules require wearing of masks on public transportation and at facilities with Medicare clientele.
Ramdin added that the lifting of the mandate does not stop individual businesses and establishments from requiring that people wear a face covering.
“We should empower businesses, if they choose to require their guests at their facilities to wear face coverings that they should be able to do so, and we should not prohibit that,” Ramdin said. “They know best what is happening there.”
The Watertown Board of Health unanimously approved the change in the indoor face covering order. See the text below:
The Watertown Health Department has observed a decline in Covid-19 cases in Watertown over the past 3 weeks. Therefore, with effect from 12:01 AM February 24, 2022 the Board of Health rescinds its Mask Mandate order that was promulgated pursuant to its authority under MGL CHAP 111, that was issued on December 22, 2021.
The Watertown Board of Health recommends wearing of face coverings indoors for persons who are unvaccinated and those who are immunocompromised.
Fully vaccinated persons should wear a mask or face covering when indoors (and not in your own home) if they have a weakened immune system, or if they are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or underlying medical condition (s), or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease or is unvaccinated.
Except that it will not apply to the following:
1. Facilities and Programs under the administration of the Watertown School Department.
2. Places/situations where face coverings are required by the Federal Government and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
This order does not prohibit private businesses or public entities from requiring the wearing of face coverings/masks at their facilities and programs.
The Board of Health will continue to monitor Covid case counts in Watertown and take appropriate action as needed.