Chatham Plans on Re-imposing Mask Order

Dr. Robert Duncanson

CHATHAM – As the post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the Omicron variant continues, local towns are wrestling with how to renew mask mandates and other safety guidelines.

The latest figures from state health officials place the statewide 7-day positivity rate at about 21 percent, the highest it has been since the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

However, the data also shows that the 7-day average of confirmed deaths is about 32 despite an average of over 12,000 new cases over the same time, far lower than the surges in early 2021 or the beginning of the outbreak. 

With 112 new cases in December out of 560 total in Chatham, Natural Resources Director Dr. Robert Duncanson said the upwards trend is no different locally.

“January of ‘21 we had 106 cases and we thought that was a high number. Well, we’ve now ended December of 2021 with 112 cases, and that’s compared to 57 cases in all of December of 2020,” said Duncanson. 

The town’s 14-day percent positivity rate as of December 30 was 11.02 percent—one of the highest on Cape Cod—and Duncanson said the figure did not account for further recent upticks in cases due to delays in data reporting around New Year’s.

“We’re seeing the same thing that everybody else is seeing. We are seeing a substantial rise in the  number of cases, as we’re seeing both on the Cape, in Massachusetts and nationally. The expectation is that most of these are attributable to the Omicron variant, which is now the predominant variant in the country,” said Duncanson.

While most of the cases were reported in vaccinated individuals, Duncanson said the mild symptoms shows the efficacy of the vaccines and urged residents to get their shots and boosters if they haven’t already.

Duncanson added that some outbreaks have been detected in the community, however local businesses have done well to report cases and get their staff tested to help mitigate the spread.

Duncanson said that the spread recently has been so serious that the Chatham Bars Inn cancelled their New Year’s celebrations to prevent spread of the variant and protect the community.

In light of the statewide indoor public space mask advisory, Duncanson asked the Board of Health to consider an indoor mask order for the community.

Board members supported a temporary mandate, saying that a town-issued order would take the responsibility off of merchants to implement a face-covering requirement.

Duncanson said that no matter what, the requirement should not allow for an “out” from the mask requirement in the form of allowing no mask to be worn if six feet of distance can be maintained.

Removing the option for six feet of social distancing instead of the face covering would make it easier to enforce the order, said Duncanson. 

He also added that the order should recommend surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks, or other high-quality masks, as cloth masks’ effectiveness is diminished in the face of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

The order will be approved at a later emergency meeting, after an official draft can be completed, said the board.

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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