Covid spike prompts Town to issue Mask Advisory and plan to delay Annual Town Meeting

Residents are advised to wear facemasks at indoor locations outside of their homes, especially if they or household members are at higher risk for health impacts from Covid.

Yesterday, the Board of Health issued a Mask Advisory and the Board of Selectmen agreed to plan to delay Annual Town Meeting. Both decisions were based on concerns about the spiking cases of Covid.

Mask Advisory

From the BOH’s press release:

In response to the spread of the Delta variant and the emerging Omicron variant, the Board of Health now advises that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering when indoors (and not in your own home). The Board particularly urges this recommendation if you have a weakened immune system, or if you are at increased risk for severe disease because of your age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.

The notice includes advice on proper masking:

When you wear a face covering or cloth mask, it should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face,
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops,
  • Include multiple layers of fabric,
  • Allow for breathing without restriction, and
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

The advisory is a strong recommendation, not legal requirement. Whether or not to pass a “mandate” will be up for further discussion and a vote on Monday morning. In yesterday’s meeting, the Board discussed that some other area communities, including Hopkinton, have issued a mandate.

The advisory also strongly recommends that those not fully vaccinated get vaccinated, and those eligible for boosters get one:

COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine boosters are highly effective at protecting against serious illness, hospitalization and death and every individual who is eligible and works, studies or resides in Massachusetts is strongly urged to get vaccinated and boosted. The Board of Health urges all eligible residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because vaccination provides the most effective protection from severe illness associated with COVID-19.

You can find the full details of the Board’s advice in their press release here.

In yesterday’s meeting, Public Health Nurse Taylor West told the Board that Southborough and Northborough will be seeking to hold a Booster Clinic for 12-15 year olds in the next couple of weeks based on the newly approved recommendation by the CDC.

Annual Town Meeting Delay

Last night, the Board of Selectmen discussed their intent to delay Annual Town Meeting based on the Covid situation. There wasn’t an official vote, but the Board did reach consensus. They plan to postpone the meeting until warmer weather can allow an outdoor session. A vote on what date to target will be discussed at their next meeting on January 18th.

Chair Lisa Braccio said she’d already heard from about 20 residents that were against holding an indoor meeting in March. She said they worried about being inside with a large number of people.

The bylaw specifies that the Meeting should open on a Saturday in March. The schedule was specified to allow greater participation of voters by avoiding parents’ conflicts with evenings and youth sports. Advice from Town Counsel was that, under Mass General Law, the Board has the ability to override the bylaw schedule to delay the start.* The only caveat is completing business by June 30th.

Braccio said that she wouldn’t arbitrarily change the date. The consideration was based on the public health concern. 

Moderator Paul Cimino was initially in favor of honoring the bylaw by shooting for holding the meeting in March at Algonquin, where the larger gym and auditorium would allow increased spacing between household groups.** Based on concerns that residents’ fears about being indoors would reduce voter participation, he shifted to supporting the Board’s position.

Noting the variability of weather (including hot days), Cimino held out hope that the Covid situation will improve enough to allow residents to be comfortable holding an indoor meeting at Algonquin sometime in the spring.

Selectmen plan to reach out to Town Recreation to discuss the potential for reducing youth sports conflicts by closing Town fields on a Saturday in late April or May. They’ll be seeking a date that is the least disruptive that can also work for the Town, and the facility.

The meeting is unlikely to take place on May 14th, which Town Clerk Jim Hegarty indicated would be tough for his staff given the Town Election earlier in the week. They will also seek to avoid holding it in mid to late June. Approving the budgets so close to the end of the fiscal year was a challenge for Town staff in June 2020.

Even if outdoors, the Town may seek to use Algonquin’s field. Hegarty said he doesn’t believe he can fit more than 400 voters at Neary. Turnout for Town Meeting is generally driven by items on the Warrant and sometimes attracts a large crowd. He suggested that Algonquin’s football field can hold many more, and they should be targeting excess capacity rather than risking having to “pull the plug” if they can’t accommodate voters who show up.

*MGL Chapter 39, Section 9 includes: “provided, however, that, notwithstanding the provisions of this section or of any other Jaw, by-Jaw, or charter to the contrary, a town, by the vote of its board of selectmen or town council may delay the annual town meeting; and provided, further, that such a delayed annual town meeting shall complete its business on or before June 30.” 

**Voters approved selectmen’s ability to move the meeting to a neighboring Town. The Attorney General’s office still needs to approve that. The review of the Articles passed at the Fall Special Town Meeting is anticipated to happen in early February.

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