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Mask Up: West Hartford Officials Asking Public to Wear Masks in Town Buildings

Front entrance of West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Effective Aug. 4, 2021, employees and visitors to public buildings in West Hartford will be asked to wear face coverings.

By Ronni Newton

With COVID-19 cases rising again, likely spurred by the highly-infectious delta variant, the Town of West Hartford will reinstate a requirement that masks be worn in all public buildings, effective Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.

What is being called a “requirement” – but stops short of being called a mandate – mirrors guidance for state buildings and follows the recommendation of the state Department of Public Health. It applies to employees as well as visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

“Our priority is to keep our town employees, visitors, and patrons safe so we have instituted a mask requirement to allow us to be fully open and committed to serving the public,” Mayor Shari Cantor told We-Ha.com Tuesday afternoon.

“Employees and visitors will be required to wear a mask upon entering municipals buildings and in public areas within the building including hallways, restrooms, and meeting rooms. Our greeters will offer a mask to visitors if they arrive without one. We will make exceptions for persons with health issues that prevent them from wearing a mask,” the town said in an announcement that was shared with all employees on Tuesday afternoon.

The town will not be asking anyone – employee or visitor – for their vaccination status.

“We are taking this action due to the increase in positive cases of COVID-19; Hartford County has now reached levels of ‘substantial community transmission.’ We believe that the mask requirement is consistent with the guidelines issued by DPH and the CDC,” the town’s announcement states, adding the cooperation of all visitors and employees us appreciated in the fight against COVID-19.

“I am so proud of our community and the high vaccination numbers butthere are still people that have not received the vaccination,” Cantor said. “It is very clear that the best protection for you and your family is to get vaccinated and I urge everyone that is eligible to get vaccinated to protect yourself, your families, and your community.”

As of July 28, which is the most recent vaccination data provided by the state, 76.51% of West Hartford residents, of all ages, have received at least one COVID-19 shot.

The state also presents data broken down by certain age groups, indicating that among West Hartford residents ages 12-15, 75.5% have initiated vaccination and 66.97% are fully vaccinated. For residents 16-44, 85.52% have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 79.59% are fully vaccinated. Among those 45-64, 86.62% have gotten at least one shot and 82.75% are fully vaccinated, and for residents 65 and older, the state is reporting that 100% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 97.23% are fully vaccinated.

On May 19, when Gov. Ned Lamont lifted most of the coronavirus restrictions for the state, the town dropped its requirement that those who are fully-vaccinated wear masks in town buildings – with the exception of schools and libraries where everyone was asked to wear a mask because of the presence of children who are not yet eligible for vaccination.

For more than a year, West Hartford had also asked people to wear masks while walking in the Center, where the narrow sidewalks and proximity to outdoor dining areas make physical distancing difficult. There are no plans to return to any outdoor masking requirement or even recommendation, according to West Hartford Public Relations Specialist Renée McCue.

Public Works Director John Phillips told We-Ha.com that he had proactively returned to a mask requirement inside the Public Works facility on Brixton Street last week, for the safety of all employees.

While few members of the public visit the facility, Phillips said he became concerned once the spread started increasing and can’t afford to have employees out for an extended period of time. “If everybody wears it I don’t have to know if you’re vaccinated or not,” he said.

Many Public Works employees work outdoors the majority of the time, and will not be required to wear masks at those times, and Phillips said they have had a good track record since the pandemic began, with no work-related spread.

All town staff were requested to return to in-person work in April 2021. Exceptions were granted for an extension for those who, due to their age, were not yet fully vaccinated and were uncomfortable being in the office.

Public meetings, which have returned to in-person format, will continue to be held at Town Hall. All attendees will need to wear masks.

Town Council meetings, as well as Board of Education meetings (which are not held during the summer and will resume in September) will continue to be streamed and recorded by West Hartford Community Interactive, but boards and commissions, as well as Town Council committee meetings, will continue to be held in person.

A decision about wearing masks in the schools will await guidance from the governor and the state Department of Education, according to Superintendent Tom Moore.

The state reported five new cases of COVID-19 among West Hartford residents in its Tuesday report, for a cumulative total of 4,816 since the pandemic began. There have been 61 new cases in the past week, up dramatically from earlier in the summer. The previous week there were 49 new cases. No new deaths from COVID-19 among West Hartford residents have been reported by the state in more than two months.

The town has indicated that the rate of COVID transmission in West Hartford will be monitored, and any policy changes will be made accordingly.

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