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Town health officials hear respectful earful, hang in there

Mask mandate loosening. ? Getty Images

The Boston Globe reported Feb. 21 that this is what local health department directors and board members face as they deal with mandates aimed at protecting the public. Some have quit after attacks. That occurred in Westford and Abington, but Arlington health leaders are hanging in there.

Christine Bongiorno, who heads the town's Health and Human Services, told YourArlington this week that the public reactions to Covid restrictions have not led any board member to leave. Two health board members continue long-standing service -- Dr. Marie Walsh Condon, chair, was appointed Jan. 26, 2009, and Dr. Kevin Fallon on Sept. 12, 2016. The term of Kenneth Kohlberg expired in January, and a new member has not yet been appointed.

So what did the health board hear at the Feb. 16 hearing to consider ending Arlington's mask mandate? Nineteen people spoke before the vote, and the overall tenor was respectful. Most speakers expressed support for lifting the requirement enacted last Aug. 19.

Still, a variety of frustrations came through, as an estimated 120 people listened to Zoom the two-hour session. Here is a representative summary of responses:

  • Parent Rebecca Peterson wanted the schools to end the mandate, saying students had seen "no faces of friends in two years."
  • Beth Hawkins, a nurse and mother of two supported taking some time before fully ending mask removal.
  • Brian Corcoran, a father of two at Hardy, said he has been working with students in person for some time during the pandemic. He asked the board to apologize for its decisions.
  • Jessica von Goehler, with a child at Gibbs, suggested the school superintendent get direction from the Board of Health. She said she is not in a rush to lift the mandate. She called putting burden on a 12-year-old "unfair."
  • Mark Kaepplein supported ending the mandate, citing declining virus levels in wastewater.
  • Gina Carme expressed concern about numbers of deaths reported on MAVEN, a state data network, which the town uses, Later, she spoke again, this time with a child who she said had Down syndrome, saying how difficult pandemic rules had been on the 3-year-old.
  • Simon Proekt had similar concerns for those developmental delays
  • Michele Orfanos said she doubted that the mask mandate should have been enacted in the first place.
  • Susan Stamps expressed gratitude toward the health board for its work.
  • Emily Shea, owner of Kickstand, asked the board to consider 24-hour delay before rescinding to give business owners a chance to tell workers.

Town Health Director Natasha Waden, who moderated the meeting, thought Shea's point should be considered, but after Fallon expressed support for an immediate end, that is what the board voted, 2-0.

The School Committee, at its March 3 meeting, plans to consider Superintendent Elizabeth Homan's recommendation for an end to the mandate in the public schools March 7.

Overall, in my view, the town's Board of Health has, throughout the pandemic, fulfilled its charge: to protect and safeguard the public and environmental health of the Town of Arlington.

They deserve praise, not blame.

Feb. 15, 2022: Should mask mandates be lifted? A personal view

This viewpoint was published Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.

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