WAKEFIELD — Although six of the eight residents who spoke via Zoom at last night’s Board of Health meeting opposed a new mask mandate, board members went ahead and voted 3-0 to mandate masks in all public indoor spaces beginning Sunday, Jan. 9.

The mask mandate applies to retail stores, restaurants (except while seated at a table or at the bar), churches, event spaces and fitness centers. In essence, any public or private indoor space where the public is allowed to enter is covered by the mandate.

In outlining his reasons for recommending the mandate, Health Director Anthony Chui noted that the current dominant Omicron strain of COVID is much more contagious. He also pointed to a 7 percent COVID positivity rate in Wakefield over the last two weeks.

Chui maintained that masks have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID. He called K95 and N95 masks “the gold standard,” but said that a blue surgical mask with a cloth mask over it is also effective. He insisted that masks protect both the wearer and others.

He noted that the mandate is “not meant to be forever” and will be reviewed at the March 16 Board of Health meeting. His proposal included an escalating schedule of fines up to $150 for offenses.

Following Chui’s comments, Board of Health Chair Candace Linehan turned to members of the public who wished to comment on the proposed mandate. Speakers were limited to just one minute and were abruptly cut off when their time was up.

Allison Bromery said that she believed that masks should be optional, not mandated. She said that it would be unfair to make struggling retailers and other small businesses enforce the mandate. She said that no definitive studies have shown that masks (other than N95 masks) are effective in slowing the spread of COVID, disputing Chui’s earlier claims.

Samantha Lord also opposed mandating masks. She noted that when mask mandates were first introduced almost two years ago, “they were our only line of defense.” Now, she noted, we have vaccines and a very high vaccination rate.

“We’re told vaccines work and that’s our way out of this,” she observed. “If that’s the case, it doesn’t get to be both.” She became emotional as she shared a personal story. She said that a medical condition prevents her from wearing a mask for an extended period and as a result she did not enter any indoor public space for an entire year due to previous mandates.

She noted that there are many more lines of defense now than when mask mandates were initially imposed. “If we trust in those other defenses, then this mandate is not OK,” she said. “Encourage mask use but please don’t mandate it.”

Marcy McCauley also opposed a mask mandate. She said that once restaurants re-opened following the shutdowns, she and her husband ate at restaurants every weekend for a year as a way to support them, and during that entire time they never contracted COVID.

Another resident opposed to the mandate said that the COVID virus is smaller than the typical mask can filter, adding that an unjust mandate would result in inevitable acts of civil disobedience and confrontation.

Alexandra Makarewicz echoed the previous comments opposing the mandate adding that she has another reason for opposing the mandate. She said that her young son has compromised lungs and is forced to wear a mask to receive the services that he is entitled to. A mask mandate, she said, would mean that her son wouldn’t get to go out in the community and get the recovery time that his lungs need.

Bronwyn Della-Volpe maintained that there was definitive evidence that masks work.

“It’s ludicrous for any of us to think that we know more than the public health professionals,” she said. “I don’t go into many public spaces but when I do, I am appalled by the number of people who are not wearing masks. This is an affront to me and anyone else who wants to keep everyone safe.”

Daniel Lieber said that he favored a mask mandate and believed it would be beneficial as long as it was done “thoughtfully” and allowed for exceptions. He said that he could support such a mandate that has nuance and has an expected end.

The final speaker was Thomas Hickey who invited anyone at the meeting to wear their mask of choice at the construction sites where he works. “You’ll be hacking up powder for about three days,” he said. “I don’t believe they work.”

Linehan said that the board had also received comments via email, but did not reveal whether the email comments were for or against the mandate.

A nurse practitioner, Linehan said that she believed that community mask wearing reduces transmission of COVID. She said that masks work best when everyone wears them. She also noted that the mandate does allow for exceptions for very young children and those with medical conditions.

“There is no perfect solution,” she said. “We have to keep working toward a solution and I believe a mask mandate is that solution.” She called a mask mandate “a low harm intervention that can have potentially large positive effects on the community.”

Board of Health member Elaine Silva, a registered nurse, said that she understood where the residents offering public comment were coming from. But she noted that the mandate would only be for about 60 days and would cover an anticipated surge later this month.

Board member Laurel Gourville, also a registered nurse, supported the mandate but  proposed eliminating any fines and making it a trespassing issue if someone refused to wear a mask or became unruly. The focus of the mandate should be on education, she said.

Silva agreed that fines would be difficult to enforce.

Gourville said that Health Department staff would be going around to visit businesses to inform them about the mandate.

She made the motion to enact the mask mandate stating Jan. 9, minus the fines. The board’s affirmative vote was unanimous.