First Selectman Jim Marpe is urging — but not mandating — that people wear masks indoors at public places in Westport. He recently required everyone entering municipal buildings to wear a mask. / Photo by John Schwing

WESTPORT — Town residents are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks at all indoor public places in town because of the spreading Delta variant of COVID-19, First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, but he stopped short of issuing a masks mandate.

Marpe, like other municipal leaders across the state, has the authority to issue a mask mandate under an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont, and recently imposed a requirement that everyone visiting any municipal building in Westport must wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

Acknowledging the spread of the contagious Delta variant, Marpe said Westporters should consider wearing masks indoors, including restaurants, stores, gyms, cultural institutions and businesses, because Fairfield County has been classified as having “substantial” community transmission of the virus, according to criteria set by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Latest COVID data: Westport area feeling Delta spread

On Tuesday, the latest COVID-19 data released by Lamont’s office showed the state’s positivity rate stands at 2.85 percent, and that there are 66 COVID patients hospitalized in Fairfield County, the second highest in the state, topped only by 69 hospitalizations in New Haven County.

Currently, 90 percent of all COVID cases in the state are of the Delta variant, Marpe noted.

Nonetheless, Marpe said, “Westport is not mandating masks at this time.

“However, given the rapid spread of the Delta variant, we are requesting that residents return to a higher level of vigilance,” he added “This pandemic does not know borders or buildings. The Delta variant is much more contagious than COVID-19 and extra precautions are warranted.”

While there is, at present, no official mandate to wear masks indoors in public accommodations locally, the first selectman said he knows “that some businesses in Westport, including most gyms and some restaurants, have returned to requiring masks for all visitors, customers and staff. 

“Most retailers are requiring staff to wear a mask,” he added. “We request that everyone respect and comply with the conditions set by these individual establishments.”

Chamber of Commerce: ‘We wore masks before, we can again’

Reacting to Marpe’s health recommendations Tuesday evening, the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, in an emailed statement titled, “Vax Up — Mask Up,” urged its members, “Let’s not flatten the curve, let’s get ahead of it. All of us and our businesses deserve to exist virus free. But that will not happen unless we all work to make it so.”

In the email, the business group also advised members, “Don’t jeopardize yourselves and certainly not the workers in our stores and restaurants who have to interact with you. We wore masks before, we can again. Don’t make this political, make it about science and health.”

It makes sense, Marpe suggested that “wearing a mask and exercising caution whether it is in Westport, another community, or in a place of business, should be consistent.”

He also acknowledged that other state communities are taking different approaches to handling the rise in Delta variant cases, based on their size, transmission data and vaccination rates.

Marpe said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “I have stated, ‘We are in this together.’ Now more than ever, that message is important. In my opinion, the personal choice to wear a mask reflects compassion for all of our neighbors, families and friends.”

And he also urged that anyone not vaccinated against the virus, but eligible to receive an inoculation, do so.