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Considering how to respond to COVID-19 spike, Adams Board of Health still wants to hear from residents

BOH meeting

Gov. Charlie Baker has rejected requests from public health leaders for mandating masks in indoor public spaces. That leaves the decision up to local board of health. Adams Board of Health members are considering a mandate but are unsure whether the town can enforce one enough for it to be effective.

ADAMS — The Adams Board of Health continues to seek community input on how it should respond to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

The state Department of Health reported Thursday that there were 190 new COVID-19 cases in Adams during the two-week period from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8. That’s more than one-sixth of the total cases that Adams has seen during the pandemic.

As the board considers how to respond, it wants to hear from more community members — including business owners — ahead of its next meeting on Feb. 2. Four people submitted comments prior to the board’s Wednesday meeting.

“What I want to float next month is, where do we want to go?” said David Rhoads, who chairs the board. “Do we need to think about a mask mandate? Or do we just want to have a much more robust public awareness campaign? Or do we just want to do nothing?”

An indoor public mask mandate must be enforced to be effective, board members said at the Wednesday meeting, although some question whether the town could enforce such a measure.

“I don’t know if it’s going to work unless it’s enforced, but I don’t think we have the manpower to do it,” board member Peter Hoyt said.

Rhoads wants to hear what businesses think, he said, because he does not want them to be in a position where asking customers to comply with a mask mandate risks losing sales.

If the board were to adopt a regulation, it would have to hold a public hearing following its next meeting to discuss the draft regulation. What the board chooses to do will in large part depend on virus case numbers, which board member Joyce Brewer added may change unpredictably by the time it next meets.

While public health leaders have called on Gov. Charlie Baker to issue a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces, Baker only advised masks. The state’s approach has left the big decisions to be made, in many cases, by local boards of health.

“It’s a lot easier if the state would step up to the plate on this one, in my opinion,” said Sandra Martin, senior planner for public health with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, at the meeting. “Whether you politically can do it, I don’t know. It’s a good idea.”

Vaccination push

Regardless of what measures the board takes, it continues to encourage people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Jan. 4, 69 percent of town residents were fully vaccinated, and 30 percent had received a booster shot, the board said. Statewide, 74 percent of people are fully vaccinated, and just under 35 percent of people have received a booster as of Thursday.

Vaccination makes symptoms milder and reduces risk of hospitalization, and Martin also suggested that people wear a well-fitted N95 or KN95 mask.

“What we’re trying to do from a public health point of view at this point is keep the numbers low enough that the hospitals don’t get overwhelmed,” Martin said. “We know that we’re not going to prevent it. It’s going to continue to spread.”

While the board also discussed the possibility of requiring visitors to restaurants to show proof of vaccination, Rhoads said he believes it has dismissed that option.

“Right now in Berkshire County, half the cases are in vaccinated people, so ... who says the person next to you who’s vaccinated doesn’t have COVID?” said Dr. Daniel Doyle, Berkshire Medical Center’s medical director of the ICU and consultant in pulmonary diseases. “In reality, by not letting an unvaccinated person into a restaurant, you’re protecting them [from] catching COVID. You’re not protecting the people in the restaurant.”

Doyle added that the biggest challenge for BMC is that several employees are unable to work because they have been infected with the omicron variant.

“And those who have been working have been dealing with this for two years, and there’s not much wax left on the candle,” he said.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

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