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Board of Health mandates masks in all indoor public spaces

In response to the surge of COVID-19 cases in town as well as local hospitalization rates, the Harvard Board of Health has adopted an emergency regulation requiring masks in all indoor public spaces and indoor private spaces open to the public for everyone age 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status. The vote to institute the mask mandate was unanimous at the board’s Jan. 10 meeting. It goes into effect at midnight Jan. 15 and will remain in effect until March 14 unless rescinded or renewed by the BOH.

Examples of places where masks will be required include businesses, places of worship, event spaces, and child care facilities and preschools. In addition, residents and workers in multifamily dwellings must wear masks in hallways and other common areas. Masks are already mandated in Harvard’s schools and municipal buildings.

There are a few exceptions to the regulation. Anyone who cannot wear a mask because of a disability or medical condition is exempt. Employees working alone in a workspace and socially distanced from other employees may remove their masks. Face coverings can be removed when seated and actively eating or drinking.

Notices must be posted advising that face coverings are required inside the establishments included in the mandate. Anyone who does not comply can be denied entry. Board of Health members and Ira Grossman, agent of the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, are authorized to enforce the mandate, and violations could result in a fine of $300.

The board initially considered not fining violators, which is Acton’s policy. But Grossman said people who challenge the mandate are likely to be less than cooperative. “If there’s no stick behind it, it’s worthless,” he added. As for the amount of the fine, member Libby Levison suggested $50 (the amount Littleton fines violators), but Grossman said that amount “was a joke” and suggested the fine be between $300 and $500.

Before voting on the regulation, the board asked Police Chief James Babu his opinion on using police to enforce a mask mandate. Babu said it would be improper for the police to enforce public health regulations. “There’s a lot of scrutiny recently of police overstepping boundaries,” he said, adding that there would be an opportunity for conflict in enforcement situations. He said he would prefer that police assist the Board of Health and its agents as needed. The board agreed with that approach. The full text of the emergency regulation is available on the town website.

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