ADAMS — In the face of an outcry from residents, the Adams Board of Health has decided to hold off another week before deciding whether to institute an indoor masking directive.
The proposal falls short of a mandate, which means it would be unenforceable, but it marks an attempt by local officials to respond to the delta variant’s spread across the region. It follows a similar directive enacted by the Tri-Town Health Department in South Berkshire.
“This is not a mandate,” David Rhoads, chair of the Adams Board of Health, said at the early afternoon meeting Thursday. “It’s not a regulation. It’s a call to action. We are asking people to use their sense of community and willingness to basically pick up those protocols that stopped the virus last winter.”
According to the most recent state data, there were 38 new cases in Adams over the two-week period before Sept. 4. That means the town had a rate of about 232 cases per 100,000 residents per week, above the countywide average of about 160 cases at the time.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines currently recommend universal masking in counties with at least 100 cases per 100,000 residents per week, which is considered “high” community transmission.
The town’s proposed order would direct people to wear masks in public, indoor spaces, as well as “crowded outdoor public events,” and any place where physical distancing is not possible, Rhoads said. The directive asks businesses to enforce masking in their spaces.
Rhoads told The Eagle that if a significant number of business owners did not enforce the regulations, the town would consider holding a public hearing and moving forward with formal, enforceable requirements. At that point, owners could be fined or face repercussions to their licenses, though Rhoads said the board hoped to stir the community to action and did not want to create mandates.
The board also included schools in the directive, which means masks would be required during recess or athletic events when physical distancing could not be maintained. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education previously had put in place an indoor masking mandate for schools across the state but had not required masks outdoors.
Under the directive, the state’s masking requirements, which apply to public schools, also would be extended to St. Stanislaus Kostka School.
At the midday meeting, Rhoads appeared to be caught off guard by the volume of opposition to the directive. During the gathering, those in the room occasionally broke out into shouts and jeers, with many of the attendees speaking over one another.
There were about 15 people in attendance. At least a half-dozen spoke out against the directive during the public comment period, including some primarily concerned about extending masking requirements to the St. Stanislaus Kostka school.
Some residents questioned the severity of COVID-19, asking the town for more figures on local caseloads, which Code Enforcement Officer Mark Blaisdell provided, while others suggested that they would stop paying their property taxes in protest.
Many attendees gave voice to misinformation about masks. One resident went maskless in Town Hall, despite town rules, and held up a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag as he protested that the directive would be “unreasonable,” “unscientific” and unconstitutional.
Medical and scientific institutions across the world, including the World Health Organization, have said for more than a year that masks prevent disease spread and do not pose health risks, except for small children who already are exempted from most mask orders.
“Even patients on the lung transplant waiting list who arguably have the severest forms of advanced lung disease are able to wear masks,” wrote Raed Dweik, pulmonologist and chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute. “If they can do it, anybody can.”
Meanwhile, several parents of St. Stanislaus Kostka students, in support of and against the requirement, hurried to point out that St. Stan’s already has high levels of masking without any requirements and managed the virus effectively last year.
Other residents at the meeting voiced explicit support for the directive, including Council on Aging Director Erica Girgenti, who suggested that more supporters might have come if the meeting had been scheduled for an evening.
Many attendees asked to see a copy of the language, which had not been made public before the meeting. The board agreed to post the language and continue the matter the following week.
Rhoads told attendees that the process leading up to the directive had been “rushed,” but added that it came in response to a rise in cases and hospitalizations.
“I feel rushed,” he said. “But, largely because I feel an urgency.”