Provincetown, the popular tourist destination on the tip of Cape Cod, has downgraded its mask mandate to an advisory over a month after a major outbreak of COVID.
The indoor mask mandate was instituted on July 25 after a unanimous vote by the Board of Selectmen and Health Board in order to quickly address growing health concerns over the Cape town's cluster that was first discovered after the Fourth of July.
It was rescinded Tuesday at 5 p.m. and replaced with a public health advisory. Town Manager Alex Morse said while not a mandate, it is a recommendation from public health officials that masking continue in indoor spaces when not eating or drinking.
"Many people will continue to wear a mask, and we ask that those choosing not to wear a mask respect the decision of others to wear one," Morse said. "And we also ask those that continue to wear a mask respect the decision of those who decide not to wear one."
Morse made the announcement Tuesday, citing positive downward trends in the COVID case numbers and positivity rates. He said the decision was made in consultation with public health experts at the local, county and state level.
"The test positivity rate as measured by testing at the Fallon mobile van has drastically improved since surveillance of the Provincetown cluster began, from a peak of 15.1% on July 15th to 2.3% yesterday," More said.
The best way for people to protect themselves against the virus is to get vaccinated, the town manager concluded.
"Going forward, the town will continue to monitor the data, consult public health experts, and adjust policies as needed," Morse said in a statement posted online. "Vaccines, and booster shots, remain the most powerful protection for everyone."
During the advisory, Morse said officials will continue to monitor active cases and the positivity rate as reported by the state's Department of Public Health. Officials will also monitor and publish weekly wastewater results, ensure that COVID testing is available after Labor Day, and make vaccination a priority -- including booster doses.
Morse said they would consider reenacting the indoor mask mandate if data warrants.
Although the town is dropping its mandate, Morse said many local businesses will continue to have an indoor mask requirement -- noting that individual businesses and organizations reserve the right to require masks in indoor spaces.
The town's compliance officer -- and the police department if necessary -- will be available to support any business when people do not comply with their mask policy.
"COVID will continue to be with us for quite some time, and it’s important that people assess their own personal risk as they make the best decision for themselves and the people around them," Morse said. "We are learning to live with, and mitigate, the impact of the virus on our community."
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Provincetown saw a dramatic rise in cases following Fourth of July festivities, with the cluster jumping to 931 COVID cases on July 30. Morse said the town, including its visitors, should be incredibly proud of how they addressed the challenges of the last several weeks.
According to an internal report by the CDC, findings from the investigation into the town's outbreak helped formulate the agency's decision to recommend that all Americans, even if they are vaccinated, wear masks indoors. An internal CDC document obtained by NBC News cited preliminary data suggesting that the delta variant is as contagious as the chickenpox, and even able to spread among vaccinated people.
"While our Town was thrust into the national spotlight by being among the first to confront the Delta variant and its contagious nature, we showcased what it looks like for a community to come together and do what is necessary to stop the spread and protect the public’s health," he said, noting they quickly made testing available and ramped up vaccinations.
The town manager said they also demonstrated the power of contract tracing, saying their efforts revealed the full extent of the cluster.
Perhaps most importantly though, Morse said, Provincetown highlighted the effectiveness of the vaccine. Among those living in Massachusetts who were associated with the Cape town's cluster, the majority were fully vaccinated and reported mild symptoms of the disease.
"While our cluster impacted over 1,000 people, less than ten required hospitalization and no one lost their life," Morse detailed.
The town manager said although this has not been the summer that many were expecting, they are looking forward to a "lively - and safe - Fall in Provincetown."