SPRINGFIELD — The city’s health commissioner said Tuesday she was pleased with the results of spot checks at businesses a day after a new mask mandate went into effect.
Helen Caulton-Harris told city councilors she hopes the mandate will be effective in counteracting the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, and that she and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno hope to avoid further restrictions.
The mask mandate requires people to wear masks indoors in municipal buildings and private business in Springfield, as well as at outdoor gatherings where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained.
While she expects there are some incidents of noncompliance, Caulton-Harris said the stores that she checked herself, including three big box stores, had proper signs on display and people seemed to be wearing masks inside.
“What I saw was really heartening,” Caulton-Harris said.
Not heartening, however, was that there were 499 new cases of COVID-19 infections among Springfield residents for the six-day period from Sept. 5-10. The seventh day, Saturday, Sept. 11, was not recorded because the computer system used for counting infections was out of service for maintenance, she said.
On Sept. 12 there were 194 cases counted covering a two-day period. But Caulton-Harris said said it was not possible to make an “apples to apples” comparison to the prior week, Aug. 29 to Sept. 4, when there were 547 cases spread over seven days. That figure continued an upward trend dating back nearly two months.
“As you can see, the number of cases continue to go in the wrong direction,” Caulton-Harris said in an online meeting with city councilors. “We are still experiencing the surge as far as COVID is concerned. It’s obviously very concerning.”
Both Caulton-Harris and Sarno said Tuesday they hope to avoid any further COVID-related mandates limiting activity, and hope to end the new mask mandate in the near future. Decisions will depend on a decline in new cases and hospitalizations.
As of Tuesday, there were 103 patients at Baystate Health hospitals with COVID-19 infections, including 13 in critical care. At Baystate Medical Center, there were 75 confirmed cases, with the others at Baystate’s hospitals in other communities.
Sarno said Tuesday that city officials continue to push for people to get vaccinated as a means of reducing COVID-19 infections.
“I know people are frustrated — I’m frustrated myself,” Sarno said. “We need to starve the virus. It’s very simple. Get the shots.”
Only 47% of city residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, far less than the state vaccination rate, Caulton-Harris said.
“We hope the mask mandate reduces our cases,” Caulton-Harris said. “We don’t want to be the mask police and don’t want our residents to be the mask police.”
In response to a question from Councilor Justin Hurst, Caulton-Harris said she did not know if imposing the mask mandate sooner might have made a difference in new COVID-19 cases.