West Newbury COVID-19 protocols remain in place | News

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WEST NEWBURY — Protocols in place for municipal buildings to keep the public and town employees safe from COVID-19 exposure remain unchanged, at least for now.

Although Town Manager Angus Jennings sets the policy that governs town facilities in this regard, he recently sought feedback from the Select Board about the possibility of easing the restrictions covering masking and social distancing practices initially adopted in November and amended twice since then.

In surveying his staff, Jennings found opinions varied.

“We’ve gotten comments on both sides — which is no surprise,” he said. However, he has occasionally witnessed some mild push back from visitors to the town offices who’ll roll their eyes and ask “Really? Really? Still?” when told to mask up inside the building.

Although the Health Department is advising more of a mask optional approach, Jennings acknowledged that from an efficiency standpoint, he would prefer to keep the current policy in place until June. This would allow his team to navigate the always-hectic budget season through the annual Town Meeting without an additional distraction.

“My motivation is conflict avoidance, to be frank,” he told town leaders.

“But we can’t have the tyranny of the minority,” responded board member David Archibald, noting that even if the town eases up on restrictions, people who wish to could still wear masks. Archibald felt leaving protocols in place until June was “crazy,” and worried that making an arbitrary decision not based on the most current scientific thinking might hamper efforts to get people to return to mask wearing should it become necessary again in the future.

Select Board member Wendy Reed felt it was Jennings’ call.

“You’re the one that works with the people,” she said, “I think you are the one to decide.”

The current bylaw requires that anyone entering town buildings must wear a face mask, maintain a minimum physical distance of 6 feet and sanitize their hands before and after touching services used by others.

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the town will make accommodations for employees who need or wish to work remotely,” states the protocol, which was most recently amended on Feb. 16 and reflects current OSHA, CDC and state guidance on protecting employees from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. “It is meant to be updated as new scientific information becomes available or regulatory requirements change,” the report states. Employees are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 infection.

Any employee who experiences symptoms such as fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, cough, headache or nausea must notify their supervisor, and take a COVID-19 test. The employee may not return to work until they are no longer symptomatic and a negative test result is received. The Town Manager or Accountant/Business Manager must give approval before an employee comes back.

The state Department of Public Health advises that a fully vaccinated person should wear a mask or face covering when indoors if they have a weakened immune system, are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if they live with someone at increased risk or someone who is unvaccinated. People not fully vaccinated should wear a mask whenever indoors, the DPH suggests. Masks should be of the highest quality, fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, and allow for breathing without restriction.

Regardless of vaccine status, all residents of Massachusetts are required to continue wearing masks on public transportation and in health care facilities. See www.mass.gov/maskrules for a complete list of venues where face coverings are still mandatory.

As of March 10, the total number of confirmed cases in West Newbury is 510, with less than five cases reported between Feb. 20 and March 5. There are 2,133, or 53%, of residents who are fully vaccinated with a booster shot; 3567, or 88%, who are fully vaccinated; and 4008, or greater than 95%, who are at least partially vaccinated.

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