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Enfield officials avoid mask mandate, citing Lebanon and Hanover’s lax enforcement

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2021 4:09:40 PM
Modified: 9/21/2021 4:09:41 PM

ENFIELD — Town officials have opted not to reinstate a mask mandate and instead plan to draft a resolution calling for people, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear masks indoors to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

The Selectboard decided at a public hearing Monday night to enact a resolution, which will not include penalties, following a short debate over mask mandates in surrounding communities.

Rules that allow police and health officers in Lebanon and Hanover to levy fines against offenders who are violating mask mandates in those two communities don’t appear to be driving compliance, Enfield officials said.

They also worried that Enfield police wouldn’t have the time or resources to enforce a mask mandate like the townwide order rescinded in June,

“As much as I’d like to see it stronger, I don’t think it’s practical at this point,” Selectboard member Kate Stewart said of Enfield’s mask regulations.

While Enfield won’t formally require masks, she said, it should still mount an education campaign attempting to reach those who refuse and assist businesses trying to enforce their own rules.

“We need to help people learn to make better decisions and give them good guidance and good leadership so they can make sustainable long-term decisions,” Stewart said during the Selectboard’s regular meeting.

The three-member board was implored by Enfield resident David Beaufait, a physician, to adopt a measure mandating mask-wearing earlier in the meeting.

Beaufait, a former town moderator, pointed to rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations as proof that town government should take action.

As of Sunday, New Hampshire was averaging a little more than 400 new cases a day over seven days, a figure that’s more in line with the April spike in coronavirus cases.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is also reporting that COVID-19 transmission across the state continues to be “substantial,” although town officials said there was only one active case in Enfield on Monday.

Beaufait, a longtime family physician, also pointed to evidence from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says mask-wearing can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

He said that while unpleasant, masking is a “minor discomfort for safety.”

But Enfield Police Chief Roy Holland said he surveyed businesses about a potential mask mandate and was “resoundingly” told it would be unwelcome.

Some, he said, worried that they would lose employees by requiring masks, while others didn’t think town action would make a large difference in customer behavior.

“I think that an ordinance creates more animosity toward the town of Enfield and the government of Enfield than it’s going to do good,” Holland said.

Officials also pointed to neighboring Lebanon, which reintroduced a mask mandate earlier this month. Compliance there has so far proved to be mixed, depending on the business.

Lebanon Police Chief Phillip Roberts said Tuesday that his officers are seeing less mask compliance under the new order than the previous one.

“We also are seeing people coming from neighboring communities that just simply are unaware of the ordinance, so that’s been challenging,” he said.

Still, Roberts said, police haven’t yet issued citations, instead preferring to educate visitors about the city’s mask rules.

Although mask compliance isn’t 100% in Lebanon or Hanover — which mandates masks around its downtown — it’s “always helpful” to back up businesses, Paul Guidone, general manager of The Co-op Food Stores, said in an email Tuesday.

The Co-op rescinded its mask mandate on July 1 as coronavirus cases were dropping, only to reinstate it on Aug. 9 because of a surge attributed to the highly contagious delta variant.

“Our members and shoppers were very gracious throughout the first period when we required a mask to be worn in our stores,” Guidone said. “They were also understanding when our mandate was reinstated.”

“In both instances, as I mentioned, it is very nice to have the support of both the towns of Hanover and Lebanon,” he added.

The Enfield Selectboard directed interim Town Manager Jack Wozmak to craft its mask resolution, which will be reviewed at a future board meeting.

While that measure won’t include an enforcement provision, they said, officials will continue to require that masks be worn in municipal buildings.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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