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Tri-Town Health withdraws indoor mask directive in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge

Empty white tablecloth restaurant table with patrons in background

In Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, restaurants, bars, stores and other businesses, as well as public spaces, no longer need to ask the public to mask up indoors.

It’s official: In Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, restaurants, bars, stores and other businesses, as well as public spaces, such as entertainment venues, no longer need to ask the public to mask up indoors.

The Tri-Town Health Boards representing those communities voted unanimously Thursday to rescind the mask directive first approved in September as the COVID-19 delta variant surged, followed by the omicron variant that emerged in December.

Tri-Town permit holders were being notified Friday morning, said James Wilusz, the regional health agency’s executive director. The removal of the directive was effective immediately, based on plummeting coronavirus pandemic caseloads and hospitalizations in South Berkshire and the rest of the county.

Wilusz emphasized that the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that masks still are required in some locales, such as some transportation and health care settings. School districts are making their own decisions on masking and other pandemic-related policies.

The CDC recommended last week that masking should continue for people not vaccinated fully, though it’s not a requirement. Masking still is suggested for people who are at high risk themselves or live with a vulnerable family member. Consultation with family physicians is suggested.

Vaccination remains the most effective protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, the updated CDC guidance stressed. Massachusetts health advisories remain closely aligned with the federal recommendations, based on the state’s Department of Public Health advisories.

“For those who are concerned, they should try to mask when they can, but I think the directive has served its purpose here,” Wilusz told the health board members during the public meeting via Zoom. It will be posted on Community Television for the Southern Berkshires’ main government public access Channel 1303.

“That masking directive, although it never was a mandate, actually saved lives,” Wilusz said. He praised the majority of the Tri-Town community for “stepping up, knowing it wasn’t a mandate, but they did the right thing.”

Individual businesses and other public-gathering locations remain free to choose their own approach to masking.

After the Tri-Town Health Boards’ 8-0 vote to remove the masking directive, Dr. Charles Kenny, the chairman, said: “We should all be happy; that’s very good. This is at a very important stage.”

“I think we can be a lot more sure that we’ve beaten this disease back,” he stated. “We may need to get a new set of vaccines eventually, but it’s going to turn out like the flu eventually; that’s what I’m hoping.”

He urged “a positive note” while acknowledging that many people suffered, including seniors and children. Mental health issues have surfaced that need to be watched closely and addressed by the local health boards, he added.

“I worry about the next generation of children, in the next five years going up into school age, who are developmentally behind,” said JoAnn Sullivan, a health board member from Lee and kindergarten teacher. “There should be huge summer programs, things to help these kids catch up. It’s a school issue, but also a mental health issue. Lenox just got comfort dogs in schools for kids who are so stressed.”

Wilusz pointed out that the Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative, a consortium of 10 towns, is looking into potential collaborations with local schools on mental health issues.

“We’re all starting to figure out how we can pull multiple organizations together so we can move along on the ramifications this pandemic caused,” he said.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto.

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