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Worcester rescinds city mask mandate; other towns also lifting restrictions

Masked students lined up to enter Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J., in 2021.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Worcester’s Board of Health voted Monday night to rescind a citywide mask mandate, following other communities that have made similar moves as COVID-19 cases decline.

By a 3-2 margin, the panel chose to remove the indoor mask requirement effective Feb. 18, just before Presidents’ Day weekend.

“So many people here in the city of Worcester, most of us, have reached a point where we’re very, very tired. We’re mentally, we’re emotionally, we’re socially tired,” said Gary Rosen, the newest member of the board and a former at-large city councilor. “There comes a time when our government can say to us, ‘You’re safe’ — and I think that’s what we’re hearing now.”

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The mandate required the use of face coverings or masks in all indoor public spaces. Some groups will still be encouraged to wear masks indoors, including those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 and people who are at elevated risk of serious illness.

Bus riders in Worcester also will still be required to mask because they must travel in confined spaces, said Dr. Michael Hirsh, Worcester’s medical director, who requested the vote to rescind the mandate alongside City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.

A second motion, which sought to rescind the mask mandate in K-12 schools, failed by a 3-2 vote.

Those who voted against the motion said they wanted to wait for more COVID-19 case and vaccination data following school break, which falls the week before Feb. 28. The board will revisit the topic at its next meeting.

Worcester is no outlier when it comes to potentially rolling back mask mandates.

In Lowell, the city’s indoor mask mandate was rescinded Feb. 2, but officials said in a statement that masks “are still required in school and City buildings.”

In Salem, the Board of Health will “be re-evaluating the mask requirement at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening,” said Dominick Pangallo, chief of staff to Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, via e-mail Monday.

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Salem’s mandate requires people to don masks inside “all public places and inside all private places open to the public,” per the city website. In addition, the site says, “masks are required inside all City buildings for both employees and the public.”

Malden, meanwhile, rescinded its mask mandate last week, citing declining virus and hospitalization numbers and increased vaccine access, according to an executive order signed by Mayor Gary Christenson and Health Board director Christopher Webb.

“The mask requirement for indoor public locations is rescinded and now advisory,” the order said in part. “This section applies to all workers and customers of a business or other organization open to the public, including but not limited to all retail establishments, fitness centers, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, event venues, and private/social clubs.”

City officials said a separate mandate requiring any person over age 2 to wear a mask inside a municipal building unless they have a medical exemption will remain in effect until further notice.

“This mask requirement includes all employees and visitors in Malden City Hall, Police and Fire Stations, the Department of Public Works, the Malden Public Library, Senior Center, Teen Center and Parking Department,” the Malden order said.

In Mansfield, officials last week rescinded a town mandate requiring people to wear face coverings in indoor public locations. The change took effect Monday.

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“The Board of Health strongly encourages residents and visitors to continue to wear masks or face coverings when indoors at public locations to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said the town in a statement Monday.

Sudbury’s Board of Health on Tuesday afternoon will take up discussion “and/or modification of” the town’s mask mandate at the panel’s regular meeting, according to an agenda posted to the municipal website.

Sudbury’s mandate requires people to wear face coverings in “all public or private (open to the public), indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status,” its website says.

But other communities such as New Bedford, which has a mask mandate for municipal buildings, aren’t quite ready to get rid of the restriction.

Cases are dropping here as they are in other parts of the state, but lifting New Bedford’s mask mandate in public buildings is not yet in the works, Michael Lawrence, a spokesman for New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office, said via e-mail Monday.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced Monday that a statewide mask mandate in schools will be lifted effective March 7.

Massachusetts’ current school policy, developed as the Delta variant emerged last summer, allows local officials to lift the mask requirement if they can demonstrate that at least 80 percent of all students and staff in a school building are vaccinated.

Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.