Joanna Buoniconti: Mask mandates should be enforced across Valley 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

While the encroachment of the cold weather has resulted in many people gathering indoors, my health prevents me from having that cavalier attitude.

Instead, I have cautiously opted to take advantage of the brisk temperatures by spending as much time as I can tolerate outdoors. And with a fresh mask on my face, I gratefully brave each new adventure. I maneuver my wheelchair along paved paths, instinctively moving to the side whenever I hear people approaching.

For most of my life, I have consistently been the only one wearing a mask whenever I enter into public because I am immunocompromised. In most cases, that has remained the case even during a global pandemic.

Earlier this fall, I visited the Ludlow Reservoir and the Congamond Lakes Fishing Pier in Southwick to do my reading for school by the water’s edge and found myself appalled at the number of people passing by me without a mask on. I visited the Congamond Lakes Fishing Pier several times this past summer when there were very few people there, so I didn’t pay much mind to the fact that no one else was wearing masks.

However, during my last trip, there was a political rally for President Donald Trump taking place on the pier. Doing my best to keep a safe distance from the substantial amount of maskless people before finally giving up and leaving, I noticed that many of the participants were elderly and could be classified as being in the “vulnerable” population for COVID-19.

To date, more than 10,000 people have succumbed to the effects of COVID-19 in Massachusetts alone. And that number only promises to steadily increase with the arrival of the cold weather. While several towns across the Valley took preemptive measures to issue mask mandates in certain areas, others didn’t.

And now, a statewide mask mandate is in effect — Gov. Charlie Baker issued an order effective Nov. 6 requiring face coverings in all public places.

Amherst was one of the first towns in the Pioneer Valley to put in place a mask mandate, on Aug. 3. According to the town’s website, the wearing of masks downtown is enforced by the town authorities and applies to town residents and visitors, with exceptions being those eating outside at restaurants and for individuals with underlying medical conditions. People who are caught not wearing masks can be fined $50 for a first offense and $100 to $200 for repeated offenses.

While this may seem harsh to some people, it can also be seen as a necessary measure for a town that every year experiences a massive influx of college students who can bring with them a large uptick in cases. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 6, according to the UMass COVID-19 Dashboard, there were more than 50 new positive cases among students.

Masks may not offer a cure for COVID-19, but they have been proven to significantly reduce the spread of it.

Wearing a mask is a common courtesy to protect those around you, especially those who are vulnerable. And if individuals aren’t going to make a conscious effort to protect people like me, it’s about time public officials do.

Joanna Buoniconti is an English and journalism major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.