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Mask mandate will end in Springfield on November 1st

Paul Tuthill
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris with Mayor Domenic Sarno and a chart showing a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases since early September. Sarno announced that because of falling infection rates a face mask mandate will expire on November 1st.

New COVID-19 cases have fallen in five consecutive weeks

With coronavirus infections no longer surging, the largest city in western Massachusetts is relaxing its face mask requirements.

The public health order in Springfield that required people to wear facemasks in all indoor settings and outside when social distancing was not possible will expire on November 1st.

When the mask mandate was put in place by Mayor Domenic Sarno on September 13th, he said it was a temporary measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We reached that goal, we reached that mark, that objective of knocking down the infection rates,” Sarno announced Wednesday at a City Hall news conference.

The city was averaging about 150 new COVID-19 cases a day in early September. Over the last five weeks, new cases have steadily fallen. There were 15 confirmed cases on Tuesday and 11 on Monday.

“If there was going to be another uptick, we do deserve the right to go back to mandating the masks, but as of right now on November 1st we will honor that deadline and the mask mandate will go away,” Sarno announced.

Sarno said he tried to balance protecting public health and not harming businesses in the city, which people might feel less inclined to patronize if a face mask is required. He noted that lifting the mask mandate now puts the city in line with more of its neighbors that either never required masks (Chicopee, for example), or recently lifted the requirement (West Springfield).

“We based it, as we have, on the statistics and what is best for public health,” Sarno said.

Facemasks will still be required in all of the city’s public school buildings as ordered by state education officials.

“That makes perfect sense to continue that added public health protection in our schools,” Sarno said.

Of the 254 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Springfield last week, 71 were in children under the age of 10 – a group for which vaccination is not yet authorized.

Sarno said there was some discussion about lifting the mask mandate before November 1st, but it was decided to keep it in place over the weekend and for Halloween, which means children trick-or-treating are advised to wear a facemask as part of their costume.

Although wearing facemasks will no longer be mandated in public settings, it is still strongly encouraged by Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

“When you go into that grocery store, think about it,” Caulton-Harris said about putting on a facemask. “When you go into a big box store, think about it. Think about your environment, think about where you are. Please, protect yourself and your families. That is what this mask mandate was about. It has now been downgraded to a mask recommendation.”

A big reason for the mask recommendation is that Springfield’s vaccination rate continues to badly lag the statewide average. Fifty-one percent of the city’s residents have been fully-vaccinated and 57 percent have received a single dose of a two-shot vaccine.

“We are making strides, but it is slow,” Caulton-Harris said.

She also urged people who are fully-vaccinated to get a booster shot, if eligible, and to get a flu shot.

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.