Town Manager: Above 4 percent COVID positivity changes the discussion

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3D illustration of coronavirus

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Town Manager Michael Borg has said that if the percentage of positive COVID tests passes 4 percent in North Attleborough, it could change the discussion on whether masks will be required in municipal buildings.

That percentage refers to the number of people who test positive for the virus of those overall who have been tested. A month ago the percentage in North Attleborough was down to .2 percent and is now at 2.57. Of the current cases, the overall majority is those who have not gotten their vaccination. A 5 percent positivity rate would result in the town being designated as a Red community by the Department of Public Health.

Borg added that there haven’t been any positive cases reported in elderly residents and it is mostly those in their 30s and 40s getting sick. Only 58 percent of the town has been vaccinated, which Borg said is lower than some surrounding towns.

Masks are a real possibility in the future,” said Borg at a meeting of the Board of Health on Aug. 10. “If you don’t want to have this, get vaccinated.”

Borg said that he has been in talks with Health Director Anne Marie Fleming and School Superintendent John Antonucci and heard from residents on both sides of the masking debate. Should a mandate go into effect, it would call on masks to be required in municipal buildings—such as Town Hall—for those that have not had their vaccination. Proof of vaccination would not be checked.

It’s the only way I can afford you a safe working environment and for those at Town Hall,” said Borg.

Board of Health member John Donohue said that an “honor system” doesn’t work. He referred to a recent party he attended in Connecticut where masks were encouraged, but none were worn. He said that if vaccination status isn’t checked then everyone should wear a mask.

It’s unfortunate that (Gov.) Baker has not made it a mandate,” said Donohue. “It puts a tremendous burden on the boards and commissions.”

Donohue said that if a mask mandate were done it could be in two parts—one for town offices and another for the community. He added there is more information to be looked over, but towns such as Norton, Belmont, and Arlington have instituted mandates. Later in the meeting the board considered whether 4 percent is the point at which action should be taken. 

North Schools await more guidance on masks in classes

Antonucci said that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued a “strong recommendation” for masks to be worn by all students in grades K-6. Those in grades 7 and above are only recommended to wear masks if they have not been vaccinated.

Antonucci said that unless this guidance changes, this is what the schools would use for the fall. He said that no COVID cases were reported in summer classes, but most students wore their masks.

In the absence of new guidance, we would take that for now,” he said.

Donohue said that the schools have had their hardest year and he has faith in the faculty. He felt that a proactive approach was the best one to take if it could prevent even one child from contracting this disease.

Deal with facts and information and science and not something that I found on the internet that looks kind of cool,” he said.

School Committee Chair Ethan Hamilton said that a more inclusive policy was needed, as there was nothing to require children to wear their masks outside of school.

It doesn’t make sense to make them wear masks and then they leave and not wear them,” said Hamilton.

School Committee member Tasha Buzzell said that the conversation on masks in schools is ongoing.

We don’t have a consensus at this point,” she said. “We await guidance.”