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Massachusetts Communities Issue Face Mask Orders To Limit COVID-19's Spread

On Monday evening, an executive order went into effect in Connecticut requiring anyone in public to wear a face mask of some sort if they can't stay at least 6 feet away from other people. 

That's the recommended distance to avoid spread of the coronavirus.

Massachusetts has advised its residents do the same, but some cities in the Bay State are going a step further.

Outside the Stop and Shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, a sign featured a smiling cartoon figure holding a mask, informing customers of the new order requiring they cover their faces.

Ernest Jerry Johnson was coming out. He had a cart full of groceries and a mask on his face.

"I think it’s a good thing," he said. "I don’t mind it. Whatever is going to keep people safe, I’m for it."

A sign outside the entrance to Stop and Shop in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Credit Alden Bourne / NEPR
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A sign outside the entrance to Stop and Shop in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Shopper Barbara Plante, who was also wearing a mask, agreed.

"I think it’s absolutely necessary because if we’re going to beat this virus, we’ve got to contain it," she said. "It’s just going to come back with a vengeance if we don’t separate and wear masks.

The order, which covers customers and employees of essential businesses like supermarkets, was issued by Northampton’s public health director, Merridith O’Leary. 

She said it’s intended to not only slow the spread of the virus but protect front-line workers in places where 6-foot separations can’t be guaranteed.

"Even though we were touting, 'Please provide adequate social distancing,' I still saw consumers going up to people who were stocking shelves, tapping them on the shoulders, getting right behind them, getting very close to them," she said.

O’Leary said she’s mindful that not everyone may have access to a surgical mask or even one that’s hand sewn.

"You can literally just take your shirt or a piece of clothing and put it over your mouth and your nose," she said.

Brookline has gone a step further, mandating that residents cover their faces any time they’re out in public.

Brookline’s health director, Swannie Jett, said he’s hoping people voluntarily follow the order.

"If we see that the citizens are not doing are doing compliance, then we will step up our efforts and enforcement and that will be a fine," he said.

Christine Dwyer grabbed a mask from a friend before entering Stop and Shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, on April 17, 2020.
Credit Alden Bourne / NEPR
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NEPR
Christine Dwyer grabbed a mask from a friend before entering Stop and Shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, on April 17, 2020.

Jett says the fine would be $50. Northampton is not planning to issue fines, but most customers are covering their faces if they know about the order.

At the Northampton Stop and Shop, Christine Dwyer wasn’t aware until she was asked about it.

“I think if it’s for people who aren’t sick, they shouldn’t be forced to but I don’t run the city," she said.

Dwyer went back to her car, borrowed a face mask from a friend, put it on and entered the store. 

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