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Springfield To Require Masks Indoors Across The City, As Officials Urge 'Shots In The Arms'

A man stands at a podium, wearing a mask. Microphones from news stations are on the podium. An American flag is behind him.
Springfield, Massachusetts, Mayor Domenic Sarno announces a citywide indoor requirement for indoor public spaces, effective September 13, 2021.

Masks will be required next week inside all businesses and other public places in Springfield, Massachusetts. The rule affects people regardless of vaccination status as city and hospital leaders noted COVID-19 cases continue to rise to levels not seen in many months.

The city’s health commissioner, Helen Caulton-Harris, said each day she hopes the numbers will show an improvement.

“That is not happening. And because that is not happening, this mask mandate is necessary,” Caulton-Harris told reporters Thursday.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said Springfield was seeing a little more than 100 cases a week in late July, and the number is now over 500 per week. Of those, he said, 55% are people under the age of 30.

“To our younger population, they feel that they're invincible,” Sarno said. “I hope they are, but you have to get that shot.”

The mask requirement takes effect Monday and is scheduled to last until November 1.

“If things get better, vaccination rates go up, COVID cases go down — and, again, the majority of those COVID cases are [among] the unvaccinated — we can look to rescind this,” Sarno said.

The mask rule also includes outdoor spaces when people cannot socially distance.

Springfield has not mandated masks indoors since late May, when Governor Charlie Baker lifted the statewide requirement. But in recent weeks, city officials have announced mask requirements in schools and other city builings.

State data show about 65% of Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Sarno noted that 47% of the city’s residents are fully vaccinated.

“I know people don’t want to wear the masks, or want to stop wearing the masks,” Sarno said. “Very simple, very simple. You want to stop wearing the masks? Shots in the arms. Shots in the arms. Get the vaccination.”

The vaccination numbers in Springfield are significantly lower among Black residents, at 37%, and Latino residents, at 31%.

While the number of breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals is rising, officials have stressed that the vaccinated are significantly less likely to be infected, and much less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.

City Council President Marcus Williams joined Sarno at Thursday’s announcement, and urged the city’s Black and Latino residents to get vaccinated.

“This country has had a long, devastating and daunting history of experiments that have failed, and that have been inhumanely put on people that look like you and me,” Williams said. “But the time to get vaccinated is now. It’s now because when I think of our most precious cargo – our children – as we’ve seen, this delta variant has passed to them more quickly and swiftly than the variant before.”

Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack said a rise in hospitalizations in the city is directly tied to vaccination rates in Hampden County, which continue to lag behind the rest of the state.

“The problems with vaccination in Hampden County are very much behind this surge that Baystate is seeing. Right now, today, of 600 inpatients across the state of Massachusetts, 100 are at Baystate [hospitals],” Keroack said. “So that’s 16% of the inpatients in the state of Massachusetts, even though we only have 5½% of the beds.”

Keroack said the problem is compounded by a severe staffing shortage at area hospitals.

Copyright 2021 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

Sam Hudzik
Sam has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Radio since 2013.
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