The Northampton Health Council recommends the use of masks

The Northampton Health Council recommends the use of masks

Northampton – The Board of Health is now advising “all individuals” in the city to wear masks in indoor public spaces to protect against COVID-19 infection.

The mask advisory, which the council approved Wednesday evening, will become more specific after the council works with the city’s Department of Health and Human Services to finalize the language.

The proposed language advises hiding people over the age of two for those who can “medically tolerate it” and cites “increasing pressure on the health care system” as the spread of the virus remains high in the city and the county of Hampshire more broadly.

Separately, the council has recommended that pharmacies and indoor food markets allocate special opening hours between 8am and 8pm when masks are mandatory.

KN95, N95 and KF94 masks are preferred according to the suggested language. Masking is “especially important in crowded places or where ventilation is poor”.

Board Chair Dr. Joanne Levine reminded members and the public that their actions Wednesday night had nothing to do with the school system.

“We didn’t get involved in schools because we’re not professionals in the school,” Levine said.

On Friday afternoon, the school committee will hold a special meeting to consider reviewing or repealing the public school district’s COVID-19 concealment policy. The virtual meeting starts at 4 pm

Northampton reported 152 cases citywide in the week prior to May 4; From May 16 to 21, there were 170 cases. According to a presentation by public health nurse Vivian Franklin to the Board of Health, there were 160 new cases from May 17-23, and 12 people reported positive results on home antigen tests. Fewer than five people have been hospitalized and there have been no deaths from COVID-19.

Also from May 17-23, Hampshire County saw 723 new cases, which is a nearly 20% decrease from the previous week, and 15 hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the number of deaths as less than 10.

“As we all know, cases are underreported at this time due to a lack of testing and home testing,” Franklin said.

In Northampton and in Hampshire County, the CDC considers the community level of COVID-19 — a measure that affects both transmission and hospitalization — to be “average.” Without taking into account hospitalizations, the level of transmission alone is “high,” Franklin said.

Emily Boddy, a volunteer with MaskChoice Pioneer Valley, criticized the board’s decision to issue an advisory on the mask, saying in an interview Thursday, “There is already guidance from the CDC.”

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance is not a blanket mask alert,” she said. “If you are a person at risk, you should talk to your doctor about wearing a mask.”

School masks to vote

Superintendent John Provost reinstated the mask mandate for Northampton Public Schools on May 10, and it remains in effect.

Boddy called on the school committee to drop the mask’s mandate. On Thursday, she cited the work of Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center who described the school’s mask mandates as “outdated.”

Summarizing the argument Doron made in newspaper opinion pieces and in other public statements, Boddy said, “I’m all for everyone to make their own choices and assess their own risks.”

Bode objected to the fact that no public comment period was planned during the 4 p.m. Virtual School Committee meeting on Friday about the district’s mask policy.

“We like transparency and public participation and feel that children’s welfare lags behind everything else,” Bode said.

The vice chair of the school committee, Gwen Ajna, said it was “in the mayor’s prerogative to hold a meeting without public comment.” Mayor Gina Louise Ciara, as chair of the school committee, has the discretion to allow public comment or not.

Both Sciarra and Agna said written comments are welcome anytime before the meeting, which was posted on Wednesday. Comments can be emailed to the committee clerk or directly to committee members. These email addresses are available on the city’s website.

In a letter last week, MaskChoice threatened “judicial intervention” against district officials if the mandate was not rescinded, or if it was used to exclude children from the classroom, and requested a written response within seven days. On Thursday, the day of the deadline, Agna said no response had been sent.

“We are considering it with our own advice,” Agna said.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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