Commissioners Support No Masks in County Buildings, Discuss Future of Virtual Meetings

HYANNIS – As the COVID pandemic shifts into a new phase, the Barnstable County Commissioners met last week to support a move to drop mask mandates in county buildings and to discuss how to standardize virtual meetings moving forward.

Assistant County Administrator Vaira Harik commented on the likelihood of the pandemic transitioning to an endemic with cases dropping in the region and lower hospitalization rates.

“COVID will remain with us in an endemic phase for quite some time, so we now find ourselves in a position of adaptation,” Harik said.

The update recommends that masks will no longer be required on county properties while still being mindful that could change should new surges occur.

According to Harik, the new CDC community risk guidelines were factored in before making the call. Harik stated that Barnstable was at low risk of community spread, even though the virus is still present in the region. Commissioner Chair Sheila Lyons offered full support of the policy update.

Since the pandemic led to the widespread use of online meetings, the County Commissioners also discussed the future of virtual meetings.

County General Council Michelle Randazzo spoke about updating the virtual public meeting policy and mentioned the state had extended its deadline where governing bodies could meet online until July 15.  

Randazzo included an addition in the County Commissioners’ policy to reflect new guidelines in the state’s policy.

This update allows a member to not have to prove specific reasons why they have to participate virtually. The commissioners voted to adopt the updated policy.

A second new policy was also adopted by the board that addressed practical procedures for virtual meetings.

The county’s Information Technology Director Bill Traverse said the policy would help standardize virtual meetings for bodies that utilize the county’s IT and it will help streamline technical requirements.

Traverse noted the public could still participate in virtual meetings the same way they can now and Randazzo clarified it’s at the board’s discretion how people are able to give comment.

“Public participation is not required under the open meeting law. The ability of the public to observe in real time, that is required,” Randazzo said.

Commissioner Mark Forrest expressed concern the policy would limit public access to meetings since Zoom may be a more popular online meeting platform than Microsoft Teams, which is what Barnstable County uses.

Traverse said Microsoft offered better security for keeping meetings safe and Lyons commented that the time of the board meetings may be the biggest factor limiting public participation.

By Brian Engles, NewsCenter.

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