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Mass. Medical Society calls for statewide indoor mask mandate amid surging COVID-19 cases

Masks are required in indoor public places, in Chelsea.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Medical Society is pushing for a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces, with COVID-19 cases rising and straining hospitals, as several cities and towns have already reinstituted mandates in their communities.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue an alarming upward trend that is straining our health care system, the physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society recommend that masks be required at all public indoor settings in the Commonwealth, regardless of vaccination status,” said Dr. Carole Allen, president of the society, in a statement released Tuesday.

Wearing masks indoors “is an effective and appropriate way to slow transmission” of the virus, she said. “We must all work together to take steps to confront and stem what could be a continued rise in cases, hospitalizations, serious illness, and death.”

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Her comments come as some municipalities have already reinstituted some form of indoor mask mandate, including Boston, which brought back its mandate in response to the Delta variant in September under then-acting mayor Kim Janey.

Other communities with current mask mandates for at least municipal facilities include Georgetown, Lowell, Salem, Worcester, Fall River, and Pittsfield.

In Georgetown, the board of health on Dec. 6 issued an order requiring all members of the public aged 2 and older to wear face covering when entering any municipal or commercial buildings.

“Although not popular, the simple implementation of the proper safety protocols, such as wearing face covering and social distancing when we are inside, can help prevent the spread of infection and can help keep everyone safer,” the Georgetown health panel said in a statement the following day, urging residents to get vaccinated and, if eligible, boosted.

In Lowell, the Board of Health on Monday unanimously voted to institute an indoor mask mandate in that city.

Draft regulations posted to panel’s website said face coverings “are required for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, aged two years and above in all indoor public spaces, houses of worship, or private spaces open to the public except where an individual is unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition or disability.”

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During a health board meeting Monday night, chairperson Jo-Ann Keegan said the mandate was prompted by public health concerns.

“The public health authorities are saying, ‘given the case rate in Lowell, and given your [infection] rate, and given your reduced hospital capacity, you should be instituting every measure you possibly can that science has shown is effective,’ ” Keegan said.

In Salem, a mandate took effect Monday requiring all who enter municipal buildings to mask up.

The city’s board of health, meanwhile, was scheduled to discuss a broader mask mandate at its public meeting Tuesday night. The meeting agenda includes talk of “possible COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including indoor mask requirement and vaccine mandate to enter businesses,” the panel’s website says.

Worcester took action in September, when City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. issued an order “requiring all individuals ages 5 and up to wear a mask or face covering when visiting or conducting business in any City building or attending a City-organized event indoors,” the city website said.

Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, Worcester’s medical director, also issued an emergency order that month requiring “face coverings to be worn in all indoor private common spaces, including supermarkets, restaurants and other businesses,” the city site said.

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Chelsea officials announced Dec. 1 that the city had implemented an indoor mask mandate for persons over the age of 2 in “all Indoor Public Spaces,” the city website said, framing the order as a vital tool in the continued fight against the pandemic.

The statement said a mask mandate had already been in place at Chelsea City Hall, the Chelsea Public Library, the Chelsea Senior Center, and all Chelsea Public Schools.

Fall River has reinstituted a mandate for city buildings and facilities as of this week, according to a spokesperson for Mayor Paul E. Coogan’s office.

In Pittsfield, a board of health order issued in November requires masks to be worn “in all publicly accessible indoor spaces in the City of Pittsfield, unless seated at a table consuming food or drink. A sign shall be posted at the entrance of all buildings.”

Officials in Clinton are also clamping down.

The town announced Nov. 1 that “everyone accessing municipal buildings in the Town of Clinton must wear face masks and practice social distancing.”

Governor Charlie Baker told reporters during a Monday briefing that Massachusetts has no plans to re-implement a statewide mask mandate.

“Public transportation has a mask mandate,” Baker said. “Long-term care has a mask mandate. Public schools have a mask mandate. Health care organizations have mask mandates. ... Keep in mind that we’re in a very different place than we were in before. Five million people are fully vaccinated. A million and a half of those are boosted.”

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Some public health specialists, however, have called for President Biden to implement a nationwide mask mandate.

“One of the problems right now is that health care workers are sacrificing themselves for people who don’t give a damn about them,” tweeted Dr. Denise Dewald, a physician based in Cleveland, on Monday. “If governments want a functioning health care system, they need to take measures to keep it functioning. We need a nationwide indoor mask mandate.”

Some Massachusetts communities currently eschewing mask mandates boast high vaccination rates, including in Provincetown, which was the site last summer of a massive outbreak of the Delta variant.

“We do not have a mask mandate for public buildings or private businesses and there is no plan to implement one at this time,” Town Manager Alex Morse said Tuesday via e-mail. “Our 14-day positivity rate has been steady at a very low 0.52% for the last three weeks, and the rate is down from where we were a month ago. We also have the lowest incidence rate (cases per 100,000 residents) of any municipality in Barnstable County over the last 14 days.”

Morse said Provincetown has “one of the highest vaccination rates in the Commonwealth and we are one of only a few municipalities in the state that that has a vaccine mandate for Town employees.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Andrew Brinker can be reached at andrew.brinker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.