Chelsea, one of the Massachusetts communities hit hardest by COVID-19, will require face masks in all indoor public spaces under a new emergency order, officials said, as cases continue to rise across Massachusetts and the Omicron variant begins to appear in the United States.
The mask mandate applies to everyone over the age of 2 and goes into effect Friday at 5 a.m., according to a Wednesday statement from the Chelsea Board of Health. The statement does not indicate when the emergency order will end.
“Masks and face coverings are one of the most effective ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the board said.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Chelsea was among the communities hit hardest, not only in Massachusetts but across the country.
In April 2020, the city’s COVID-19 infection rate was one of the highest in the nation, 57 per 10,000 residents, six times the statewide infection rate and greater than the worst days in New York City, according to an October report from the environmental group GreenRoots.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that by April 2020 one-third of the city’s residents had acquired antibodies to the virus, indicating they’d been infected, the Globe reported.
Chelsea’s infection rate dropped to 25 cases per 100,000 residents over the 14 days prior to Nov. 27, according to the most recent data released by the state. That puts Chelsea below the statewide average of 34.3 cases per 100,000 over the same period.
The mask order applies to shared spaces in public buildings and to all private establishments, including retail shops, bars and restaurants, houses of worship, fitness centers, social clubs, and event spaces.
In bars, restaurants, and dance clubs, customers may remove their masks only while eating or drinking; masks must be worn on dance floors, officials said. Performers are not required to wear masks while performing, as long as there are at least 6 feet between them and any customers.
Outdoor dining and other outdoor activities are not included in the mandate, according to the statement.
Last week, the Salem Board of Health issued an advisory strongly encouraging people to wear face coverings indoors in public places and large private gatherings.