Officials in Salem have voted to institute a citywide mask mandate, making it the latest city in Massachusetts to have such a mandate approved amid the rise of the delta variant.
The Salem Board of Health voted unanimously Tuesday night to accept the policy, which will go into effect Aug. 23 and remain in place through Nov. 13 -- unless the board takes action to extend the mandate.
Once in effect, people in Salem will have to wear a mask in all public businesses like restaurants, gyms, museums and city government buildings.
“To do nothing given what we’re anticipating and given what just happened in Provincetown and what we know based on the science, I think would be irresponsible,” board chair Jeremy Schiller said.
“Masking is not a big ask. Nobody loves it. But it’s not a big ask for the health of our community,” board member Sara Moore said.
“With the hope that we can do the simple thing and it’ll prevent us from doing the big thing like closing down for Halloween again,” another member of the board added.
The changes to the city's coronavirus policies come as COVID-19 cases continue to rise -- fueled by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant -- and with tourism set to spike soon.
Halloween is annually the biggest money maker for Karen Davis, who owns Coons Card & Gift Shop.
“I do what they tell me to do. I won’t always be happy but I will succeed," she said. "I’d rather not wear the mask. I’d actually rather wait until Charlie Baker tells us.”
“If you’re not going to be vaccinated you need to wear a mask. That’s it,” said Lauren Lusardi.
At the Sopranos-inspired Bada Bing Barber, the mask mandate feels like an interruption to this thing of theirs.
“They knew how hard we fought to stay open and get back open. Four months we had to pay rent out of our own pocket because we were shut down. Now I have to risk losing money again? Not for it,” Jordan Bartholomew said.
“This is not shutting down any businesses or limiting them," Schiller said. "In fact this is hopefully preventing any of that from occurring by protecting all of us.”
On Monday, the school committee voted unanimously to approve the mandatory mask requirement for all students and teachers in Salem Public Schools for the start of the school year.
The school district is also considering having students eat their lunches outdoors, weather permitting.
“No one really wants to wear them again but if it comes down to it you have to,” said Josh Patnaude.
Salem said Monday it is also working on a policy to require vaccination or twice-weekly negative testing for city and school workers. Salem businesses, "especially those that interact directly and in-person with the public and visitors," are being encouraged to adopt a similar policy.
The city is asking Massachusetts to extend its "Stop the Spread" free testing program, scheduled to end Oct. 31, through the end of the year. Salem will begin issuing local coronavirus case updates daily after cutting back to once a week in June.
Along with the new regulations being planned, Salem announced that other restrictions are not under consideration.
"The City has no intention at this time of implementing capacity restrictions, early closure times, or marketing intended to deter visitation," Salem said in its announcement. "The primary focus of the City's efforts over the next three months is on resuming high levels of mask usage and expanding vaccination up-take as extensively as possible, especially among front-line workers."
Some of those restrictions that were in effect last year left businesses struggling, especially around Halloween, the time of year Salem is normally bustling.
"It's understandable, but it is going to be tough having to close early on everybody," Tim Maguire, the owner of the Halloween Museum, said ahead of the holiday.
More Mass. Communities Require Masks
"Our top priority is ensuring the safety, health, well-being of our residents and in particular those who are not able to be vaccinated yet," Mayor Kim Driscoll said in a statement. "The science is clear that masks help reduce transmission and vaccines help reduce the severity of illness. Together, they are a powerful barrier to the spread of COVID-19, including the Delta variant."
The highly-transmissible delta variant has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend all people, vaccinated or not, to wear masks indoors in public places in areas considered to be of high or substantial risk — a classification that currently describes almost all of Massachusetts, including Essex County.