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Formerly the Newton-Needham Chamber

Of masks and mandates

When Boston Mayor Michell Wu held a press conference Monday to announce a phased-in vaccine mandate for customers and workers at many indoor businesses and venues, she stood shoulder to shoulder with mayors and elected leaders from Salem, Somerville, Arlington, Cambridge, Medford and Brookline.
 
One by one, those officials announced they were working on adopting similar mandates in their communities -- a position strongly encouraged by MAPC and endorsed by the Globe.
 
This region requires Boston to take major steps and for us all to work together as a community amongst communities," Brookline Select Board member Raul Fernandez said.
 
“To keep our businesses open, keep our communities safe, ensure our kids can stay in school, we need to act collectively,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, adding that a vax mandate “is a small price to pay” to keep communities “safe, strong, and open.”
 
Watching the news conference remotely, I kept waiting for the camera to pan back to see if Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller was among the attendees.
 
She wasn’t.
 
Later that afternoon, Fuller and her Commissioner of Health and Human Services Linda Walsh issued a statement saying Newton “is not mandating customers show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, fitness, entertainment, or recreation at this time. 
 
“We will continue to watch the ever changing conditions and updated medical information on the virus and to consider adopting a policy like the one announced by Boston today and other public health measures,” they added. 
 
The statement went on to note that a “remarkably high percentage” (95%) of eligible Newton residents are vaccinated and noted that city and school employees are required to be vaccinated.
 
I had a chance to speak with the mayor about her decision and learned that she didn’t make it lightly. As she always does, Fuller carefully weighed the data and the pluses and minuses, including the impact a mandate would have on our businesses.
 
Many business owners I’ve spoken to in the past day appreciated her decision.
 
Others said a vax mandate would make it easier and safer for them to run their operation or bring back workers.
 
Some felt they'd lose employees and customers with a mandate. Others thought it would make Newton a more desirable place to work, shop, exercise and dine.
 
And while it’s true that Newton enjoys a 95% residential vaccination rate, our workers aren't necessarily residents. Before the pandemic at least (the most recent data we have) 89% of those who work in Newton commute in from outside Newton, while 85% of residents commute away from Newton to work.
 
It’s possible neighboring communities' vax mandates will entice some vaccine hesitant workers to find jobs here instead. But is that really how we want to fill open positions?
 
Baker stops short of mask mandate
Gov. Charlie Baker yesterday issued an advisory recommending all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask or face covering in indoor, public spaces.
 
It’s not a mandate, like we had a year ago, but it’s as close as this governor seems willing to go.
 
"If locals wish to pursue alternative options, they can do so," Baker said. "We issued a mask mandate last fall because we had no other options available to us.
 
"At this point in time, we have vaccines, we have rapid tests, we have our testing sites, and people know a lot more about what works and what doesn't with respect to combatting the virus. If people wish to add an extra layer of protection by wearing a mask in indoor settings, we would urge them to do so, especially when we have cases rising across the commonwealth."
 
Watertown reinstates its mask mandate
Newton has had an indoor mask mandate in place since September.
 
Watertown’s Board of Health imposed an indoor face mask mandate at about the same time but then lifted it in October as infections declined.  
 
It’s back.
 
As of today, Watertown’s indoor face mask rule has been reinstated for all persons at all times when inside public spaces or private spaces open to the public. This order is enforceable by a fine of $300.
 
But Wellesley is ‘split’
Wellesley’s Select Board briefly touched on the issue of indoor mask mandates at its meeting Monday and suggested they might come back to the issue at a future meeting, according to the Swellesley Report.
 
Executive Director Megan Jop said the town’s Board of Health “discussed it at length” at its Dec. 16 meeting and is “somewhat split over it.”
 
But Select Board member Ann-Mara Lanza came out strongly in support of indoor mask rules.
 
“A booster will keep us healthy. But it’s not going to stop the spread. Only a mask stops the spread,” Lanza said.
 
And in Needham...
Needham’s Board of Health has not issued new guidance or rules around masks or vaccines but issued an updated advisory about both yesterday.
 
 
Today's final word on face coverings
ome experts say its time to toss out your cloth mask.
 
DC lawmakers push for small business relief
A group of more than 60 lawmakers from both parties are asking Congressional leaders to quickly fund relief programs for small businesses, writes Andy Medici for the BBJ.
 
Among their requests are new aid programs for gyms, hotels and the travel industry. They’re also asking to fully fund all requests made to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which ran dry in July.
 
“These small businesses are critical to the cultural and economic vitality of our communities, and they need our help,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
 
A reminder for restaurants
If your restaurant received a grant through the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund you have until March 11, 2023 to use your grant. However you must report to SBA on your use of the funds to date by this Dec. 31, 2021. Details.
 
Muzi sale price now public
We now know the sale price for the Muzi Motors property that was sold last week along I-95 in Needham.
 
Bulfinch purchased the 9.4 acre property for $57.5 million, according to the Real Reporter.
 
Specific plans for the site have not been released but the property is zoned for lab, office, retail and housing but not warehouses, as would have been allowed before a rezoning earlier this year.
 
And as I wrote last week, Bulfinch has a great reputation as a thoughtful local landlord.
 
Meanwhile, it’s been a busy few days for the Bulfinch crew: The company also closed the sale on a 94,000-sf Neiman Marcus site at the Natick Mall for $12.6 million.
 
How not to close your business
There are always a few bad apples that give other businesses a bad rap.
 
The operators of the Wellesley Square CVS appears to fall in that category.
 
They apparently did exactly what a conscientious operator should not do when they closed for good at the end of last month.
 
While the chain says they shipped most of their unsold inventory to other stores, they also appear to have dumped piles of goods -- feminine products, soaps, shampoos, vitamins, batteries and other personal items -- into dumpsters out back of the Central Street store last week.
 
Carloads of goods have been rescued and are being redistributed to those in need, though some of the products were unusable, having been covered in liquid laundry detergent, according to the Swellesley Report.
 
And that's not good for every business owner who tries to do the right thing every day.
 
 
That’s today’s Need to Knows unless you need to know the best way to beat a Boston parking ticket.
 

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