Masking the problem

COVID-19 cases growing; businesses mixed on new mask order

Signs outside Bemis Drug remind customers to wear facial coverings while inside the store.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement Tuesday that he was extending the state’s stay-at-home order until May 18 underscores the fact the region still isn’t out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Abington Health Agent Marty Golightly.

Although the number of virus related hospitalizations are starting to plateau, Wednesday marked the state’s most deadly day, with 252 new reported deaths. The total number of positive cases in Massachusetts — 60,235 as of Wednesday — continues to grow by about 2,000 per day. The number of positive cases in Abington more than doubled over the last week, from 58 on April 20 to 123 on April 27.

“Even with social distancing, we should be in our surge period now,” said Board of Health Chairman Chris Schultz. “I would anticipate a continued climb this week, and then hopefully it should start plateauing.”

The continued growth rate is being driven by a number of factors, said Golighty. Largely it reflects the increasing number of people being tested. Positive antibody tests are also now being included in town-by-town totals. But also, despite more than a month of social distancing measures, the virus continues to spread. 

Active and recovered cases in Abington (Data: Mass. DPH)

“We need to remain vigilant,” Golightly said. “Fatigue is going to set in, fatigue with this whole situation. But the more serious we take it now, the sooner it will all be over.”

In a sign that social distancing remains a public health policy priority, the Abington Board of Health last week approved an order requiring everyone over the age of 2 to wear a facial covering while in a retail store or other essential business. Businesses also are required to have an employee ensure customers are wearing masks when they enter, as well as limit the number of people in the business at one time. Violations come with $100 fine. 

It was the possibility of a fine that bothered some local business owners. 

Sub Galley owner Bob Wing said he actually supports the face covering mandate, as it helps protect his employees. “My beef is the fine. What happens when a customer refuses to wear a covering?,” he said. “There are people who with everything going on still refuse to believe it will effect them.”  

Golightly said his office did receive a number of phone calls from local businesses owners voicing concerns with the order, but that the positive response outweighed the negative. 

The level to which Abington businesses are following the new order varies widely. A reporter visited one local retailer and found signs at the entrance reminding customers they must wear facial coverings; every employee and customer were also wearing masks. At another retailer, there were no signs at the door, and at least one employee and customer were seen inside without masks. 

Golightly said he has received reports about businesses violating the order. 

“Enforcement continues to be an issue,” he said, adding that his office lacks the manpower to perform regular checks.