After a final possible stumbling block was cleared Friday, it’s all but certain that nearly two years of mask mandates for public spaces and school venues in Belmont will end at midnight, Tuesday, March 8 as the three main town bodies responsible for the requirements will, in all likelihood, vote to vacate the measures.
“We are moving forward with the knowledge that the mask mandate will likely be ending on Tuesday,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan on Friday, March 4, during the “topping off” ceremony for the middle school section of the new Middle and High School.
Monday’s busy schedule will include:
- The Board of Health has scheduled at 4:30 p.m. a review, discussion and “possible vote” on face covering mandate in town followed immediately by a similar vote on school mask requirements at 4:40 p.m.
- The Belmont School Committee will then assemble for a special meeting to discuss any recommendation and then vote on its mask policy at 6 p.m.
- Finally, the Select Board, in a joint meeting with the Board of Health at 7 p.m., will meet to vote on lifting the town’s mask mandate followed by a vote to reinstate in-person meetings for town boards, commissions and committees.
Belmont’s move to lift its mandates come as government health agencies and many states and municipalities across the country have removed their mask requirements as infection rates due to Covid have fallen while vaccination rates have steadily risen.
Under the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued on Friday, March 4, residents in counties where the community risk determined through a metrics including hospital capacity levels, new cases and hospitalizations is considered “low” residents can do away with masks. Middlesex county, where Belmont is located, is like 90 percent of US counties which are classified as “low.”
This past week, Belmont has seen some of the lowest infection rates since the beginning of the coronavirus in March, 2020. In addition, residential vaccination rates are over 80 percent and 9 our of 10 students are vaccinated in the higher grades.
While Belmont will likely remove the mask mandates on Monday, the action is not coming as a surprise. In the first week of March, the Health Board began reviewing the data used to justify imposing the mask requirement with both the school committee and select board expressing confidence the mandate would be removed.
In fact, the Health Board had called for an “emergency” meeting on Monday Feb. 28 – the day Gov. Baker’s ended the state requirement for masks in school – take a vote on the mandate’s future. But just as quickly as the notice was posted, the meeting was cancelled as it was determined by town officials not to have met the criteria for an “emergency” and thus would violate the state’s 48-hour notice requirement for government meetings.
As the town was moving towards a vote, the school district began working with the Belmont Education Association to prepare for a future mask transition as required by a joint Memorandum of Agreement on Covid-19 protection measure with the existing contract.
After meeting with the School Committee and representatives of the school district on Wednesday, March 2, BEA members two days later approved in near unanimity – there was a single ‘no’ of the more than 70 Unit A members voting – to accept the MOA change. Under the new agreement, educators will not be punished for continuing to wear a mask or seek to keep a safe distance between them and students to lessen possible infection.