Variant cited as state council delays vote on mask use regs

BOSTON — The state Public Health Council on Wednesday opted not to take a procedural vote to officially rescind state regulations around mask use, with some members voicing concerns about spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

In early June, with Gov. Charlie Baker’s mask order no longer in place and the state preparing to emerge from the COVID-19 state of emergency, the council rescinded, on an emergency basis, the regulations that required people to wear face-coverings in public when they could not socially distance.

The repeal took effect June 10, and a vote on administrative steps to finalize it was scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting, but the council instead decided to table that vote until its next meeting in September.

Dr. Edward Bernstein, a Boston University School of Medicine professor, said he had reservations around rescinding the regulation, citing the presence of the Delta variant both in Massachusetts and nationally and the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations that people mask up in higher-transmission areas.

“I still have a real concern that we’re not going far enough,” he said.

Department of Public Health staff said that repealing the regulations would not prevent a future mask mandate, nor would it stop municipalities from putting their own mask rules in place.

Lissette Blondet, director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers, said that while Massachusetts has a high vaccination rate, visitors come from all over to areas like Cape Cod, where she lives. She said the state “needs to take a stronger leadership role regarding this.”

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