Oak Bluffs nixes mask advisory

Geoff LaBash and his two children, Blake and Audrey, recently taking advantage of the new outdoor seating on Circuit Avenue. Masks are now mandatory at all times in the downtown area of Oak Bluffs. — Kyra Steck

The Oak Bluffs board of health rescinded the town mask advisory at its morning meeting Thursday, citing low CDC risk levels and the lack of ability to enforce an advisory.

In the advisory issued on May 18, officials warned of the highly transmissible Delta variant, and strongly advised that individuals wear masks when indoors or in enclosed spaces serving the public, or when unable to maintain social distance, regardless of vaccination status.

Oak Bluffs health agent Garrett Albiston said the majority of Island boards of health have already rescinded any mask advisories they had in place, and those that haven’t yet are planning to at upcoming meetings. “There might be one town that still has not met yet, but everyone was planning on rescinding the mask advisory at their next meeting. The schools are still doing testing if kids have symptoms, but there is no more pool testing going on this year. We haven’t been seeing any kind of uptick, but we only get reports if people get tested at the hospital,” Albiston said. “You can self-report with an over-the-counter test, but we certainly are not getting everyone who is testing positive to actually self-report.”

Oak Bluffs board of health member Jim Butterick spoke frankly about the need to rescind the mask advisory. “It’s time to lift this — We are still under the low-risk category for the CDC, and we are no longer doing the daily reports that [Maura Valley] was doing,” Butterick said. “The mortality rate is down to where it was in March of 2020, when this was beginning. Nobody is paying attention to it, there is nobody enforcing it, so it’s time to vote it out.”

Board chair William White said he will often see people voluntarily wearing masks based on their own concerns or health issues, and stressed that it’s their right to do so. But he continued that folks can make that choice on their own, and trying to enforce any kind of advisory would be a “hard sell,” with the current national public health climate. “I am in agreement to rescind,” he said. The advisory was rescinded unanimously.