CHATHAM — If you’re headed to an indoor town meeting, or maybe for a workout at the community center, be prepared to mask up.
The board of health Monday unanimously issued an emergency order requiring even vaccinated people to wear face coverings while attending any indoor town meeting or any gathering of two or more people in a town meeting room, including the community center gymnasium and fitness room.
The move was prompted after some residents expressed concerns that in-person committee meetings were taking place in small, crowded meeting rooms where participants could not properly distance themselves. Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said concerns were also raised about a large gathering in the community center gym several days ago where people were not wearing masks.
Duncanson drafted the emergency order and had it reviewed by town counsel before bringing it to the health board Monday.
“This is not a comprehensive mask mandate for all conditions,” he said. The requirement does not apply to town employees working in their offices, nor to building lobbies. It does apply to all indoor in-person meetings of boards, committees and commissions, “including town meeting, if we were to have one indoors,” Duncanson said. It applies to all people, vaccinated or unvaccinated, two years of age or older, but only in town-owned buildings, not school buildings.
The committee chair or town moderator has the authority to waive the rules in case a person has requested a waiver in advance for a medical reason, and can also allow people to remove masks while addressing the meeting, if necessary. Social groups using the community center meeting rooms are also covered by the rule, though if refreshments are served, masks can be removed while people are actively eating or drinking.
The health board may need to revisit the rule when colder weather forces basketball and most athletic activities indoors, Duncanson said. “Right now those things can continue to happen outside.”
The order comes as COVID cases continue to rise regionally. After a relatively quiet summer, Chatham has recorded 23 cases so far this month, far more than last September.
“We’re almost three times as many cases so far in September this year, and we’re only up to the 20th of the month,” Duncanson said.
The two-week percent positivity rates on the Lower Cape are generally climbing, though they remain below 5 percent, the level at which an outbreak is said to be growing unabatedly. Chatham’s rate is 4.41 percent, up from 2.47 percent in late August; Harwich stands at 3.13 percent, up from 2.32 percent. In Orleans, the rate stood at 3.7 percent in late August but then dropped to 1.45 percent before climbing again; it now stands at 2.96 percent.
With numbers nationally on the rise among young people, cases have begun to emerge in the Monomoy schools. As of last Wednesday, there were two cases each in the high school and Harwich Elementary, one case at the middle school and no cases of COVID-19 at Chatham Elementary.
Like all districts in Massachusetts, Monomoy is technically eligible to lift its mask requirement for vaccinated people in the upper grades as soon as Oct. 1, provided that the schools’ vaccination reaches 80 percent. The district has not yet achieved that target, however. As of Sept. 10, 71.85 percent of Monomoy High School seniors were fully vaccinated. In the seventh grade, where most students are old enough to receive the Pfizer vaccine, just 41.88 percent of students had received both doses.
Recognizing the surge in cases related to the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, Barnstable County health officials have opened a free testing site in Eastham. Highly reliable PCR tests are available on Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Eastham police station, 2550 Route 6. Appointments can be made online at www.BarnstableCountyHealth.org.
“Anyone who suspects they have been exposed to COVID-19 is urged to pursue testing,” an announcement reads. “It’s important to note that the Delta variant, which is believed to be the predominant variant of COVID-19 in our region, typically tests positive between three to five days after exposure. Therefore, it is recommended that testing take place on day four following a suspected exposure.” Results are usually available within 24 to 48 hours. For information, call 774-330-3002.