Amid a sharp rise in new COVID cases and the presence of the Delta variant, the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury boards of health unanimously approved an indoor mask mandate at a joint meeting Tuesday.
The mandate goes into effect on Thursday, August 19, at 12:01 am, and requires individuals to wear a mask or face covering at all indoor settings.
“Face coverings are required for all individuals aged 2 years and above in all indoor public spaces, or private spaces open to the public. Notwithstanding any provision in this order, pursuant to guidance issued by the CDC, face coverings should not be placed on young children under 2 years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, or anyone who due to disability is unable to wear a mask,” the mandate reads.
The mandate requires that customers at indoor food establishments may only remove their mask when seated. Customers at an indoor performance, bar, or dance venue may only remove face coverings when eating or drinking, or seated. Lodging guests must wear face coverings when inside hallways or common areas. Houses of worship are also covered by the order.
Fitness club staff and customers must wear face coverings at all times.
At personal services such as barbershops, and hair and nail salons, all customers and staff must wear face coverings. Face coverings can be temporarily removed for beard or skin care that occurs on the face, but must be immediately put back on.
Those in shared office spaces are not required to mask while at work stations as long as they maintain a distance of six feet. Masks must be worn while serving the public or traversing the building.
Masks will remain mandatory for all public and private transportation.
All businesses are required to post signage advising customers that face coverings are to be maintained inside the establishment.
Written warnings can be issued to establishments for a first offense, $100 for second offense, $200 for third offense, and $300 for a fourth offense.
While fines can be imposed, health officials said, realistically, fines, especially on individuals, would be hard to impose. The boards of health, not the police, are the enforcing agents. “By the time we get the complaint about them not wearing a mask, they tend to be gone,” Valley said.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said Island health officials are viewing the mandate as incremental, and there will hopefully not be a need to go beyond this first step. “We elected not to go back to capacity limits and regulating spacing at this point,” Poole said. “But if we can’t reverse our trends, we may find ourselves there.”
Oak Bluffs board of health member William White said Island health officials will meet again soon. “We’ll see how these trends go,” White said. “We’ll have to address this in a few weeks one way or another.”
Oak Bluffs health agent Meegan Lancaster showed a 14-day case rate graphic indicating the Island’s cases were spiking, and that the Island could see a record number of cases.
“We are really up there in terms of case count,” Lancaster said. “We are making the best effort we can to ensure people are wearing masks indoors in as many circumstances as possible.”
“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Oak Bluffs board of health member James Butterick said.
When looking at a comprehensive chart of COVID cases over the course of the pandmeic, Oak Bluffs board of health member Tom Zinno said this most recent spike is of particular concern.
“Now we’re looking at a spike that’s happening when a good portion of the population is vaccinated,” Zinno said. “That’s the scariest part of the whole thing.”