Free masks at the Petersburg Public Library in 2020 (KFSK file photo)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday voted to extend a face covering requirement for indoor public spaces in the borough into the first days of the new year.

The assembly passed a new emergency ordinance that continues the COVID-19 mandate inside buildings that are open to the public, including for community events, work out areas, meetings and gatherings for non-profits and private social clubs. The mandate, which has not been enforced, does not extend to private residences and has many exceptions.

The borough’s public health officer Dr. Mark Tuccillo encouraged the continuation and said masks cut down on transmission of the virus.

“I think masks are easy, they’re safe, they’re something that some people have to get used to but trust me we wear masks all the time all day and it’s something you can accommodate yourself to and it works,” Tuccillo told the assembly.

The emergency ordinance was passed November 5th during the latest rapid expansion of cases in the community. The assembly added language about two weeks later but stopped short of fines or requiring enforcement by businesses and building owners. Since then case numbers have dropped.

As of Friday morning December 3, the community had 24 active cases, 16 of those in the past week, and a testing positivity rate of just over nine percent. By Monday afternoon December 6, cases at the schools were down to 10, with four at the elementary school and six at the high school.

Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay supported the continuation of the requirement through the holidays.

“As we heard a lot of people got sick and a lot of work had to go into getting us back to the state that we’re in right now,” Tremblay said. “And given the state of town economics we need to be able to keep things moving smoothly. I would like to be able to have a local government that can both plow roads and pick up garbage at the same time. So I believe that keeping smart public health measures in place right now is incredibly important.”

The medical center reported over 230 people who tested positive in the past four weeks, 30 patients treated with monoclonal antibodies and more than 10 people admitted to the hospital. The borough hospital, schools and day cares all had staff out sick during the outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings indoors in public for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in areas of high transmission of the virus.

Mayor Mark Jensen was the only vote against the extension and said he didn’t support the borough mandating it.

“I think the people that are going to wear the mask will wear them without a mandate,” Jensen said. “I wear mine personally when I go into public spaces. But even wearing it for an extended period of time like right now in this meeting I have a hard time catching my breath all the time but I’m wearing it.”

It was 6-1 to extend the face covering requirement through January 3rd.

In the interest of full disclosure, assembly member Chelsea Tremblay is a current volunteer and former intern with KFSK-FM where this story was produced.