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Springfield's Top Health Official Sounds Alarm Over People Not Wearing Face Masks

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WAMC
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The number of new COVID-19 cases occurring day-to-day remains low in the largest city in western Massachusetts.  But, Springfield’s top health official is sounding an alarm.

  As more and more of the Massachusetts economy has reopened and people have ventured out over the last several weeks, the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services has fielded dozens of calls reporting violations of the state mandate that face coverings be worn in public.

This past weekend, Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris went to personally investigate some of the complaints.

" I was heartened and disheartened at the same time," said Caulton-Harris who added now was not the time to "throw caution to the wind."

She said Monday that many of the places she found where masks were not being worn by either employees or customers were small neighborhood stores.  Some gyms were also found to be in violation.

" I witnessed signs being ignored and I witnessed businesses allowing individuals to come into businesses without face coverings," Caulton-Harris said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order on May 6 requiring face coverings be worn in public places where social distancing is not possible.  It applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces.   Springfield followed up the governor’s order with a board of health regulation that stipulates violators could be fined $300.

Caulton-Harris said no fines were issued as a result of any of the violations she witnessed over the weekend.

"My staff is working with the venues to do the education first," said Caulton-Harris. 

Face masks have become a political issue across the country with the leaders of some states where COVID-19 cases are now soaring, only recently issuing face covering mandates.

Dr. Robert Roose, the chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, said there is mounting scientific evidence that points to the importance of wearing face coverings in slowing the spread of the virus.

"COVID has not been eradicated," Roose said, warning " We must not let down our guards prematurely."

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Springfield has averaged in the single digits for the last two weeks.

In another sign of progress, Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city is taking down a medical tent complex for the city’s homeless that was stood up in March.

" I am glad we took the proactive move on that and you see in the facts it has paid dividends," said Sarno.

Of the roughly 200 homeless individuals who were tested for COVID-19,  just 12 came back positive.

Springfield recorded a total of 2,767 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of July 19th with 124 city residents dying of the disease.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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