The CDC says Hampshire County has a "moderate" level of COVID-19 transmission — the lowest among Massachusetts counties. Still, starting Wednesday, a mask mandate returns in the county seat of Northampton.
Masks will be required in all indoor public places, including businesses and schools.
Northampton Health Director Merridith O'Leary said the mandate is designed to slow a recent spike in the city's COVID-19 rate.
"In the last two weeks, we've increased our caseload more than 400%," O'Leary said. "Currently, right now in the city of Northampton, we've investigated, in the last 30 days, 31 cases."
O'Leary said many of the recent cases involve the more contagious delta variant.
The mandate, she said, will be in place until COVID-19 metrics improve.
At least one entity in Northampton is opposing the mask order. The general manager at the Three County Fair, James Przypek, said it will severely impact business at its facility.
"We understand preventable measures are necessary but individuals have had the option to get vaccinated or not vaccinated for months," Przypek said in a prepared statement to the Northampton Board of Health Monday prior to its vote on the mandate. "Individuals have had the option to wear masks or not wear masks for months. We ask that you do not take the rights of individuals away to make their own choices."
The statement said the mandate could put "fear into fairgoers who will now question their desire to attend."
In neighboring Easthampton, health officials have issued a mask advisory, but stopped short of a mandate.
"I know the public is tired, I'm tired," said Bri Eichstaedt, Easthampton’s health director. "So we're kind of just hoping people will take it upon themselves to just comply with the advisory. There's definitely a chance it could go to a mandate, especially if the cases continue to rise."
UMass Amherst is also requiring masks to be worn in public buildings. Some communities in the eastern part of the state have also issued mandates and advisories.