A New Rule in Town: Cover Your Face, or Face a $1,000 Fine

Taking a cue from other Massachusetts communities like Cambridge, Peabody and Somerville, Winthrop officials are now making face coverings in public compulsory. Those who do not follow the directive can be fined up to $1,000.

Previously, masks and other forms of face covering were highly encouraged to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Due to an emergency order issued on April 22, they are now de rigueur and their use will be enforced by the Winthrop Police Department.

The declaration by the Town Council and the Winthrop Board of Health states that masks covering both the mouth and nose must be worn by the following: anyone entering an essential business, employees of an essential business when working with the public or within six feet of a coworker, food service workers when handling food, and anyone entering a residential or commercial building greater than one unit. Businesses are authorized to refuse service to anyone who is not complying with the face covering order.

The order also demands proper disposal of masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE). Littering of these items is punishable by a fine of up to $300. This stipulation came about as street cleaners reported large amounts of discarded PPE showing up on sidewalks and in gutters.

Circumstances under which individuals may remain mask-free include walking in public spaces while maintaining social distance, riding in a personal vehicle and sheltering at home. Children under five years of age are also not subjected to the order.

The Town is not encouraging residents to wear respiratory masks, saying that these should be reserved for medical professionals and first responders. Instead, cloth face coverings should be prioritized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these should fit snugly, be secured with ties, include multiple layers, allow free breathing, be removed properly and be sanitized regularly.

The CDC emphasizes that face coverings should not be used on children under two years old or individuals with breathing problems.

Many cities and towns around the Commonwealth—and indeed around the country—are requiring members of the public to cover their faces or face steep fines. This phenomenon is not unique to the U.S. either. According to the Guardian, Germans risk a penalty of up to €10,000 ($10,864) for not covering up in public, with the heftiest fines being levied against business owners.

Winthrop Board of Health Director Meredith Hurley said that no fines had been issued as of the deadline for this publication.

“Our goal is not to fine or arrest people but to get the public to voluntarily comply with the current local orders,” said Winthrop Police Chief Terence Delehanty. “It will be up to the judge to assess the fine amount.”

The chief added that his department was working with the school system to make sure the emergency order is translated into different languages for non-English speakers.

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