PITTSFIELD — The Board of Health voted unanimously to immediately end a mask directive for indoor spaces Wednesday evening, accepting the recommendation from Pittsfield Health Department Director Andy Cambi that coronavirus precautions should be eased across the city.
Pittsfield’s advisory will follow the Massachusetts Department of Public Health advisory from Feb. 15 that says that fully vaccinated people only need to wear a mask if they or a member of their household are at risk or have a weakened immune system or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.
One-shot vaccination rates are steady, at about 87 percent, and the percentage of fully vaccinated residents is at 75.
The unanimous vote to move to an advisory ends the four-month mask directive — a set of strong recommendations for all residents to mask indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
“I think there’s a fundamental shift here, though, and the underlying driver is shifting responsibility based upon the data and the responsibility is shifted to the individual,” board member Brad Gordon said.
“This is essentially stating, ‘Hey, if you fall under any of these categories of vulnerability, it’s suggested that you wear a mask,’” he added.
Cambi said that continually declining coronavirus daily case counts have made his department confident that, within the next couple of weeks, testing positivity rates will hit the important 5 percent positivity marker.
Since late November, Pittsfield has been classified as in the “red zone” for the coronavirus — an area of high risk for transmissibility — because there has been more than a 5 percent testing positivity rate and a two-week average daily case rate higher than 10 cases per 100,000 people.
Data from the health director’s presentation to the board showed that, in Pittsfield, the two-week average testing positivity rate is at 8.1 percent and the two-week average daily case rate is at 56.9 cases per 100,000 people.
“We are finally seeing the end of the [omicron] spike,” Cambi said.
Cell tower issue
The Board of Health spent the rest of its Wednesday evening meeting discussing the next step in its relationship with Verizon Wireless and its cell tower at 877 South St.
The board voted unanimously at its Feb. 2 meeting to give Verizon seven days to meet with the board and discuss solutions to documented health impacts experienced by neighbors of the tower. If the company refused to come to the table, the board decided, it would issue a cease-and-desist order.
Chair Bobbie Orsi said that while the board was united in the decision to take that action and did not receive a response from Verizon in the week that followed, no order was drafted or sent to the company.
“We wanted to be sure that we had the best order that we could, and we got some legal advice in drafting that order,” Orsi said.
The board entered into executive session with City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta to discuss the language of a drafted cease-and-desist.
When the board returned to the public meeting, members said they remained committed to sending the order but would not be issuing the order this week.
“We had a lively discussion with the city solicitor and had made the decision to not change our intention to move forward with the cease-and-desist order,” Orsi said. “We will however, align our resources towards a strategy that will afford us the best possibility of success.”