Brookline To Start Requiring People With Trouble Breathing To Wear Face Shields – Even Though Coronavirus Rate Is Low

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The town of Brookline plans to start requiring that people medically exempted from wearing a face mask wear a plastic face shield instead – even though the town has a relatively low rate of coronavirus cases.

State guidelines already require that people who go into stores or use public transportation wear a face covering and maintain social distance. But they exempt “those unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition.”

Starting Monday, September 14, the town of Brookline plans to replace the exemption.

“We are pleased with the level of cooperation with the existing face covering requirement,” said Swannie Jett, the health commissioner of the town of Brookline, in a press release Friday, August 28. “However, it is important to reinforce the need for a protective layer that limits the possibility of spreading the coronavirus — as a cloth face covering does — while ensuring people with medical limitations are protecting those around them from COVID-19 without jeopardizing their own wellness.”

The press release states:

“Beginning on Sept. 10, those who are medically excluded from wearing a face mask or covering will be required to wear a plastic face shield in lieu of a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth. Face coverings help prevent those carrying the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others.”

The town’s press release does not mention Brookline’s coronavirus statistics or offer data to justify the change in policy, which is not a rule required by the state.

As of Wednesday, August 26, Brookline’s average daily incidence rate of coronavirus cases during the previous two weeks was 1.7 per 100,000 people – well below the level the state considers moderate risk, which is 4 per 100,000 people, and far below the level the state considers high risk, which is 8 per 100,000 people.

The positive test rate in Brookline between August 9 and August 22 was 0.47 percent, or fewer than 5 per 1,000 people tested.

Among the four colors the state uses on its coronavirus map – red for high risk, meaning higher than 8 cases per 100,000 people; yellow for moderate risk, meaning 4 to 8 cases per 100,000 people; green for low risk, meaning fewer than 4 cases per 100,000, and white for fewer than 5 cases total – Brookline’s color is green.

Brookline borders on two municipalities:  Boston and Newton. Boston has a significantly higher level of coronavirus cases than Brookline, at 7.1 per 100,000, but even that is within what state officials consider a moderate level. Boston’s color on the state’s coronavirus map is yellow.

Newton’s color, like Brookline’s, is green. It has 3.0 cases per 100,000 people, according to state figures.

The town of Brookline is shown by the green municipality in the middle. The yellow to the east, south, and northwest show neighborhoods of the city of Boston. The larger municipality to the west (shown in part here) is the city of Newton.


The Massachusetts coronavirus web site’s Frequently Asks Questions about face masks includes the following exchange:


Who is exempted from wearing a face covering?

Exceptions for wearing face masks include situations that may inhibit an individual from wearing a face-mask safely. These may include, but are not limited to: 

    • Those who cannot breathe safely; 
    • Those who, due to a behavioral health diagnosis, are unable to do so; 
    • Those communicating with people who rely on lip-reading;
    • Those who require supplemental oxygen to breathe; and
    • Those who are exercising outdoors and are able to keep physical distance from others.


State officials say 8,791 people have died from coronavirus in Massachusetts as of 4 p.m. Friday, August 28, according to state figures. But recent statewide trends are encouraging. Positive test rates have been declining, for instance, while hospitalizations for coronavirus and deaths attributed to coronavirus have remained mostly flat.


A map released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday, August 26 shows that most of the state continues to be handling coronavirus cases well. Areas in red are considered high risk, areas in yellow are considered moderate risk, and areas in green and white are considered low risk.

The cities and towns in red show high risk from coronavirus, because they are reporting more than 8 cases per 100,000 people. Areas in yellow show moderate risk, with between 4 and 8 cases per 100,000. Areas in green are considered low risk, meaning fewer than 4 cases per 100,000 people. Most of the towns in the state are shown in white, meaning they have fewer than 5 cases total. Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s web site, Wednesday, August 26, 2020.