Somerville Moves to Establish Public Indoor Mask Mandate

Board of Health to review indoor masking order at August 19 meeting

SOMERVILLE, MA – With the fast-spreading Delta variant driving an increase in COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally, the City of Somerville is moving to require all people wear face coverings in indoor public settings regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against the virus. At their upcoming meeting on August 19, the Board of Health will consider a mandate with a potential immediate start date of Friday, August 20, 2021. As with previous masking orders, children under the age of two would be exempt.

“The most important thing everyone should do right now to slow the spread of COVID-19 is get vaccinated if you have not done so yet. It’s free, it’s easy, and the data clearly show that the vaccines vastly reduce your risk of severe or fatal illness. But the next thing we all need to do is mask up inside in public spaces again because anyone can still get the virus and spread it, and it spreads most easily indoors,” said Somerville’s Health and Human Services Director Doug Kress. “By masking up indoors in public, you can do your part not just to protect yourself and your loved ones. We also need to remember that children under the age of 12 and persons who are medically vulnerable have less protection against the virus right now. If we all take steps to slow the spread of the virus, we can help protect them.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all persons in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission wear face coverings when in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. As of August 10, the CDC had designated all Massachusetts counties except one as either high or substantial transmission (Hampshire County is at moderate transmission). Currently, Middlesex County is designated as an area of substantial transmission. In Somerville, case numbers have also been steadily increasing since mid-July. As of August 10, a total of 82 new cases were reported in Somerville in the previous ten days. Currently in Massachusetts the disease is spreading quickest among those ages 20-39.

“The last time case rates were this high in Somerville was this past spring. Then, with measures in place to slow the spread, the community stepped up, complied with the rules, and together we drove COVID cases down. Now that the Delta variant is driving cases back up, we are asking the community to join together and break this cycle again,” said Mayor Joe Curtatone. “Putting on a mask indoors in public is easy to do. Getting vaccinated, staying home if you feel unwell, and quarantining if you were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 are also essential actions we can all take. This is how we can best protect our community and keep the reopening going.”

All Somerville City buildings currently require staff and visitors to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth. Indoor masking of staff and students is also required for current summer programs in Somerville schools and is expected to continue for the return of full classes in the fall. If approved, details of the indoor public mask mandate are expected to mostly mirror that of previous indoor mandates. The new mandate would apply only in indoor public spaces. The proposed order does not require face coverings in outdoor areas. The order would be in effect until further notice.

“We’re not cutting back at this moment on what people can do and we’d like to avoid that,” Curtatone said. “But we do need to recognize how to do things safely in public settings. There are people of all ages for whom this disease still poses a real threat and the simple act of wearing a mask when you’re inside a public space can help prevent this disease from spreading to them.”

The spread of the Delta variant also underscores the necessity for those still in need of a vaccination to get one immediately. As of August 5, 54,983 Somerville residents (73% of the city’s total population) were fully vaccinated and 59,337 (78%) had received at least one dose. Information on where to get vaccinated locally and answers to common questions can be found at Vaccination is free, no health insurance is required, and immigration status is not checked.

“Again, the vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious cases of COVID-19, even with the variants,” said Somerville’s Health and Human Services Director Doug Kress. “That is why it is vital for everyone to get their vaccine. Until we have the overwhelming majority of our population vaccinated, the potential for this virus to do serious harm will persist.”

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