It’s Official: Masks are Required for Annual Town Meeting

March 22, 2022

Town Moderator Mark Siegenthaler Tuesday affirmed the facemask requirement for next week’s Annual Town Meeting.

“Masks will be worn except when speaking or asking questions during the meeting,” Siegenthaler announced through the town website. “Seating near the microphones will be restricted to maintain social distancing.”

Town meeting begins next Monday at 7 p.m. in Buckley Auditorium, Bedford High School. The session is expected to resume the following night.

Select Board members voted to require town meeting masks at their meeting on March 7. The topic was revisited at a board meeting Monday, because, as Chair Emily Mitchell said, “This is the moderator’s call.” The position of moderator was vacant until the March 12 election.

The five Select Board members – including newly-elected Shawn Hanegan – supported the requirement. Siegenthaler pushed back, inquiring about the metrics that will determine an off ramp. He said he would deliberate overnight, and Tuesday morning the decision was publicized.

Board member Bopha Malone pointed out that lip-reading assists some voters who are hearing- impaired. Speakers at town meeting should have the option of removing masks, she said.

“I think this is an accessibility issue,” Hanegan commented. “The only way they can exercise their right in this democratic process is to physically be at town meeting.” Without the safeguard, “there are people who won’t come, through no fault of their own.”

“I do continue to have concerns about the older cohort at Annual Town Meeting,” said board member Margot Fleischman. “The risk of infection might be something that would dissuade them” from attending.

Fleischman said the board suggested that voters might consider a self-test before heading to town meeting.

Board member Edward Pierce acknowledged that “there are people who are looking at this and saying, ‘I’m not quite ready.’” He said he hopes that by fall, “we will be basically back to normal.” It would be more difficult to relax and then “put the brakes back on,” he added.

Chair Emily Mitchell was involved as a volunteer with last weekend’s BHS musical production in the auditorium. She reported that during the four performances when masks were “strongly recommended” but not required, no more than 25 percent wore face coverings. She said she was surprised that there weren’t more.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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