Marlborough Board of Health to discuss possible mask mandate

The Marlborough Board of Health discussed on Monday the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on Marlborough. He will meet on Thursday to discuss a possible mask mandate. (Photo / Dakota Antelman)

MARLBOROUGH – The Marlborough Board of Health did not adopt a mask mandate at its Monday night meeting.

But he plans to look further into the matter in a meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. as the rise in COVID-19 cases continues.

“There will certainly be a lot of opinion from both sides that I think we should have the opportunity to hear,” said Health Council member Joseph Tennyson.

Board member notes current hospital conditions

Before any discussion of the masks’ actual mandates, the Board of Health heard updates on the current state of the pandemic in Marlborough.

There were 653 active cases in the city as of January 10. This is down from the peak of more than 1,000 cases on January 7.

There have also been 96 active cases in Marlborough public schools, according to public health director John Garside, up from 185 cases at the end of last week.

“The day off after snow day, combined with the new isolation and quarantine guidelines seemed to help,” Garside said, noting the heavy snow that closed schools last Friday.

Tennyson offered his take on conditions in area hospitals.

Tennyson serves as president of emergency medicine at UMass Memorial Health, which operates Marlborough Hospital.

“Marlborough is in trouble,” he said. “Marlborough Hospital struggled with staff all weekend. It’s very bad.”

As of Monday, 29 people were hospitalized at Marlborough Hospital with COVID-19, Tennyson said. Of these, 10 were in the emergency room while 13 were hospitalized. There were six people in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Forty percent of the hospital’s ventilators were in use, although Tennyson said not all of these were necessarily used by COVID-19 patients.

Those hospitalization numbers are just below the parameters seen at the start of last year, Tennyson said.

He added that patients arriving at the hospital with symptoms of COVID-19 more often see symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. This comes as some data shows that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may be less likely to infect the lungs than other variants of the coronavirus, Tennyson said.

Staff shortages, mainly caused by positive cases of COVID-19 among staff, are nonetheless problematic.

“What hurts hospitals is that it’s not just the number of patients in the hospital, it’s the understaffing,” he said.

He said several colleagues described the situation as a situation where the staff “are dropping like flies”.

“It’s one after the other,” he said.

Board of Health discusses possible mandate

Garside opened the discussion on a possible mask warrant on Monday, noting that he had heard comments from community members about it.

While neighboring municipalities like Westborough, Northborough, Grafton and Southborough have all passed mandates in recent weeks, members of the Marlborough community have spoken out both for and against such action in the town, Garside said.

Speaking on Monday, Tennyson and Board of Health Chairman James Griffin said they “would not both be against” a term.

Board of Health member Phillip Short did not attend this meeting.

“I think people are starting to realize that this makes sense,” Griffin said, although he said he wanted feedback from community members before taking a vote.

Tennyson also suggested voting on a mandate at a separate meeting, specifically noting that no votes were announced on the agenda for that January 10 meeting.

City councilors share their thoughts

City Council Chairman Michael Ossing and Councilor Samantha Perlman both attended Monday’s Board of Health meeting. The board invited them to share their thoughts.

Ossing said the city should continue to follow state guidelines regarding COVID-19, without opting for more stringent measures.

“It’s suggested,” he said. “If you’re smart enough you’ll wear it. Making people wear it, I don’t think that’s appropriate.

Massachusetts had a mask mandate in place earlier in the pandemic. The state, likewise, is demanding masks in schools and recently extended that mandate until February 28.

But Governor Charlie Baker said publicly that it does not provide another general mandate for all public spaces.

Perlman has raised concerns about this.

“I’m concerned that the indoor spaces and continued gatherings will only keep the numbers very high,” she said.

“I am afraid that the governor is not taking action and therefore, we have a responsibility to the citizens of our community to keep everyone safe,” she added.

Community member Doug Pizzi said he had reached out to local government officials to express his support for a mandate.

Speaking on Monday, he gave the example of a local grocery store, noting instances where many people around him were not wearing masks.

Perlman said she had received messages from employees of Marlborough companies requesting the warrant as a layer of protection in their interactions with the public.

“If there is a mandate in place and they are in their place of business where it can be applied, there is a structure behind it,” she said.

Public health director says mandate would strain ministry resources

The data showed that increases in cases caused by the Omicron variant in other parts of the world intensified rapidly before plummeting, Tennyson said.

Garside and the Board of Health further noted that the number of deaths from COVID-19 has not increased in line with the current increase in cases.

Garside further cautioned that while “the mask’s mandate certainly makes sense when you sit in your big chair and say ‘let’s do the right thing’,” a mandate and enforcement measures included in it “would put additional pressure” on the Health Department.

However, concerns remain about the current state of optional masking.

“I just think the voluntary situation just doesn’t do it,” Pizzi said in his comments to the board.

“The state, which I thought was very useful initially, including the governor at the start of the pandemic, is MIA,” he added. “… I just think [a mandate] is necessary for public safety.

The Board of Health had not yet posted the agenda for its Thursday meeting as of Thursday afternoon at 4:45 p.m.

However, he plans to announce this meeting and will include a scheduled meeting location when he makes this announcement.

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