Metro, Newton, Politics

City of Newton Rescinds Indoor Mask Mandate, Residents Respond

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced an end to the city’s indoor mask mandate, garnering a range of reactions from Newton residents. 

“I’m nervous,” one Newton resident said. “It feels like ‘Oh, everybody is gonna take their mask off and you’ll be back in supermarkets and things like that, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t feel ready, but I don’t know in terms of the science if it’s a good idea or not.”

Effective Feb. 18, Newton residents can enter public spaces without masks for the first time since Sept. 2, 2021. Fuller said that businesses and employers maintain the right to require masks and that individuals may choose to wear masks as they please. 

“I do think that her lifting the mandate for indoor masking wouldn’t change how I mask myself,” said Newton resident Daisy Dai. “If other people chose not to wear their masks, I would still be wearing mine.”

Fuller and Newton Health and Human Services Commissioner Linda Walsh cited several guiding factors for their decision to rescind the mandate, including high vaccination rates, a decline in positive cases, and the availability of at-home tests. The Newton COVID-19 dashboard reported a positivity rate of 2.76 percent through Feb. 16 and a vaccination rate of 88 percent as of Feb. 15. 

“I think [Newton is] among the stricter towns in the state,” Dai said. “I feel like mostly everywhere I go in Newton, people are pretty good at maintaining social distance and wearing masks whenever they could.” 

Dai, however, noted some room for improvement, particularly within schools. 

“They were kind of not able to come up with a solid plan of how [to reopen schools] compared to some of the other neighboring towns that are equally well-funded in general,” Dai said. “I think a lot of working parents need that. The kids needed that as well—to go back to school and learn—because I do think it had a major impact on some of the learning and also social skills.”

Newton Public Schools (NPS) made plans to release updated safety guidelines from the medical advisory group by Feb. 18, though NPS had not released the plan as of Feb. 20. 

Effective immediately, however, there are no limits on the number of spectators for athletic competitions or fine arts performances at NPS. Spectators are required to follow existing NPS masking guidelines and stay home when sick or if they are exhibiting any symptoms ofCOVID-19.

Newton’s decision to lift its indoor mask mandate comes as more states and cities nationwide begin to ease pandemic restrictions. The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker shows that, as of Feb. 20, U.S. cases have fallen by 40 percent, deaths have fallen by 8 percent, and hospitalizations have fallen by 22 percent in the past week.

“I think, given the precipitous drop in cases and, for that matter, hospitalizations and those kinds of markers, along with measuring the sewage, it’s getting close to that time [to lift the mask mandate], ” said Robert Gracey, a local resident. “I think we’re getting closer to the endemic stage versus the pandemic stage.” 

Newton resident Lin Shi said that Newtonians must face the fact that COVID-19 will likely continue to be a part of their day-to-day reality. 

“COVID probably will not suddenly disappear,” he said. “I think people have to learn how to live with it, so it’s not that you want to or don’t want to, but that’s the reality. We have to watch how this develops and then come up with smart ways to deal with it.”

Despite the widespread hope to start treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease, some public health experts still caution against prematurely relaxing pandemic safety measures, according to The Washington Post. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 92.61 percent of U.S. counties still have “high” community transmission of the virus.

As of Feb. 15, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health advised that a fully vaccinated person should wear a mask if they have a weakened immune system or are at increased risk for severe disease, or if anyone in their household is at risk or unvaccinated. 

“If the mandate comes back, I absolutely [would] abide by it,” one resident said.

Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / Heights Editor

February 20, 2022