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Board of Health to Issue Advisory, Not Mandate, For Masks in Public Buildings

The Burlington Board of Health is recommending people, even those who have received one of the three vaccines, to start wearing face masks while inside public buildings again as cases of COVID-19 tick up.

On Tuesday the board said they would issue an advisory that residents and visitors wear masks while in Burlington businesses, especially if crowds make social distancing difficult.

“Only a month ago we thought the covid situation was under control but it looks like with a new variant it will be with us for some time,” Board Chair Dr. Ed Weiner said about the current situation. “Even the vaccinated are getting sick, hospitalizations are on the rise, and deaths are still happening.”

Health Director Susan Lumenello said the CDC’s latest guidance is for all people, even the vaccinated, to wear masks while indoors in any areas of “high” or “substantial” rates of transmission. She noted that according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows that every county in the state has “substantial” rates of transmission.

“Basically the CDC is saying everyone should wear masks indoors in areas of substantial transmission,” she said.

Board member Dr. Wayne Saltsman said he trusts the advice from the federal agency.

“I would say as a citizen I do have faith in the CDC,” he said. “The head of the CDC is former chair of infectious disease at Mass General Hospital. I trust her and the organization she has created. I would feel comfortable given the information we have today to have an advisory for mask wearing.”

There was some discussion about the possibility of a mandate for masks in public buildings, as some communities in the state have done, but members of the board said they didn’t feel it was necessary to go that far at this time.

“I believe having an advisory and having the good citizens of this town follow the advisory is sufficient – I would not at this time recommend a mandate,” Dr. Saltsman said.

However, they did say that if the situation worsened a mandate was a possibility.

“If we need a mandate, we’ll have a mandate but if we don’t, we won’t,” Dr. Weiner said.

The board did set up a subcommittee to meet weekly and examine the data for rates of infection and vaccination in town and stay up on the situation. They also said if there is a need for a special board meeting to make changes they would be willing to call for one.