Belmont Issues Indoor Mask Mandate; Will More Mass. Cities Follow?

Belmont is one of the first in the state to bring back its indoor mask mandate for all as COVID cases climb.

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With COVID cases rising in Massachusetts, the town of Belmont on Monday imposed a mask mandate for everyone 2 and older in all indoor spaces open to the public including bars, restaurants, barber shops, hair and nail salons, fitness centers and health care facilities, including congregate care settings.

The mandate requires businesses to post the mask requirement but leaves it up to workers to enforce the rule. Those who are unable to wear a mask because of a medical condition or disability are exempted from the new requirement.

There are other partial exemptions. Diners at restaurants can remove their masks when seated while those at bars or dance venues can only remove their masks when in the act of eating or drinking. Patrons must continue to wear masks on indoor dance floors.

The order also applies to houses of worship and public and private transportation systems, including taxis, ride-hailing companies, commuter rail trains and the MBTA.

Tracy Chang, the owner of Pagu Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., says she has concerns about physical safety as some customers are enraged by her mask mandate. A clinical psychologist says that mask rage is not often just about the mask -- the emotion underneath the anger for a lot of people is fear. But Chang says no amount of yelling is going to change her mask policy.

The mask mandate will remain in effect until Middlesex County, where Belmont is located, is rated as "low'' or "moderate'' for community transmission of the coronavirus for two consecutive weeks.

Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 12 Massachusetts counties -- all but Hampshire County -- with rising caseloads of COVID-19 sparked by the highly contagious delta variant.

Belmont is one of the first in the state to bring back its indoor mask mandate for all as COVID cases climb.

"It's annoying," Telyia Prescott said. "It reminds me of 2020 summer."

"I didn’t really realize I hadn’t worn a mask in weeks," Noah Joseph said.

The owner of Belmont Books says she doesn't mind.

"I absolutely agree with it," Kathy Crowley said. "I think the delta variant is just so much more easily transmitted."

Crowley was a physician before she owned her book shop, which is why the mask mandate never stopped in her store.

"It's not a big ask to ask people to wear a mask for the few minutes that they're in the store so we decided to stick with it," she said.

The guidance recommends fully vaccinated people wear face masks in public, indoor settings under certain conditions.

Down the street at Bellmont Caffe, though, there's a differing opinion.

"It was very, very frustrating," owner Rachid Smairi said.

Smairi isn't masking his feelings. He thinks the mandate will be bad for business.

"The message you're sending to the customers is you're not safe," he said. "There are small towns around us here they could go anywhere they want so it's definitely going to hurt."

That's precisely why State Rep. Mike Connolly says universal guidance is needed.

"People live in one community, work in another community, so this is one place where having guidance from the governor and public health experts is particularly important," he said.

Salem is considering a similar mandate, and a number of others are requiring masks in city buildings to start.

Gov. Charlie Baker has resisted re-imposing mask mandates, including in schools. Baker, a Republican, said that while the state is recommending masks for unvaccinated students and staff, the final decision should be left to local school districts.

The Salem School Committee voted unanimously Monday to accept recommendations calling for students and staff to wear masks for the start of the school year.

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by nearly 2,600 over the weekend while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by three.

The new numbers from Friday, Saturday and Sunday pushed the state's confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,730 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 681,000. There were more than 310 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 75 in intensive care units. The average age of those who have died from COVID-19 was 74. The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

Nearly 4.4 million people in Massachusetts have been fully immunized against COVID-19.

NBC10 Boston/The Associated Press
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