Hanover and Enfield institute mask mandates in public

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2020 3:04:15 PM
Modified: 8/4/2020 3:04:08 PM

HANOVER — Two New Hampshire towns in the heart of the Upper Valley will require people to wear face masks in public places after officials this week adopted “mask mandates” intended to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Selectboards in Hanover and Enfield voted Monday night to adopt temporary regulations calling on people to wear masks inside businesses and in heavily trafficked areas. That includes sidewalks and trails surrounding downtown Hanover and “any outdoor area where business of any sort is conducted” in Enfield.

The new regulations took effect Tuesday morning in Enfield, while Hanover won’t enforce its ordinance until Monday, Aug. 10.

Both sets of rules allow health officers to dole out fines if people refuse to cover their noses and mouths. However, officials are hopeful it won’t come to that.

“I don’t think we’re going to be handing out citations, period,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin told the public during a hearing held over teleconferencing software Monday night.

Instead, both she and Enfield Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth hope that simply informing members of the public of the new requirements and the threat of potential fines, will be enough to get the job done.

While both towns’ mandates call on people to wear masks while frequenting businesses, waiting in line for food or when within 6 feet of a co-worker or customer, they each offer slight differences.

For instance, Enfield’s rules say that masks are “encouraged but not required” on the Northern Rail Trail and in other outdoor recreational settings.

Officials say that’s largely out of a worry that overly onerous rules would deter mask-wearing, instead of encouraging compliance.

“I think if we create rules that are going to be not sensible to people there’s too great a chance they would not abide by them,” Enfield Selectboard member John Kluge said.

The mandate in Hanover comes as Dartmouth College prepares to bring back up to 2,200 undergraduates to campus next month.

Outdoor mask-wearing in Hanover will be required in several zoning districts, which run roughly from the Ledyard Bridge to the west to Etna Village in the east, and the Lebanon-Hanover line in the south up to Wilson’s Landing on Route 10 in the north.

But Griffin said the mandate won’t be actively enforced unless there are problems social distancing.

“If you’re taking a walk around Occom Pond, if you’re walking up East Wheelock and there’s nobody in sight, then a mask isn’t required,” she said.

Public hearings on the mandates were well-attended Monday — about 60 people logged into Zoom to watch Enfield’s discussion — but there was little disagreement among attendees.

The vast majority of those who spoke supported the regulations, saying they would help increase safety and reduce the burden of shop owners and store clerks who may be reluctant to enforce their own mask requirements.

“I’ve been in many little stores in Enfield and the cashiers and the people working there are wearing masks but some of the customers are not,” Enfield resident Gail McPeek said.

Enfield resident Jean Patten also commended the mandate but asked that town officials institute stiffer fines for those who refuse to wear masks.

For police to “chase people around for $25 or $50 is really crazy,” she said. “If we’re going to do this, make it worth our while.”

The Enfield Selectboard agreed and ultimately doubled its fines from $25 for a second offense to $50, and $50 for a third offense to $100. By comparison, Hanover’s ordinance calls for an initial fine of $100, $200 for the second and $500 for further repeat violations.

Both Enfield and Hanover will issue warnings the first time someone is spoken to for not wearing a mask — the health officers in each town would be the enforcement agent, along with police in Enfield — and both towns are working on public education campaigns to help alert people of the new rules.

In Enfield, officials will craft signs and work alongside businesses to get them posted in prominent places, according to Aylesworth.

Griffin said Hanover has ordered stickers to place over its current red signs dotting downtown so that face masks being “requested” soon becomes “required.”

The town, she added, continues to distribute masks to visitors and businesses and is looking into purchasing mask and hand sanitizer stations.

While most people agreed with the efforts, a handful argued that they’re not necessary.

Hanover resident Michael Taxman said “things are working quite well” in Hanover and people are already wearing masks while in the neighborhood.

“It seems to be nice to be dealing with this situation without ordinances and threats of force, penalties and so on,” he said.

Griffin estimated that compliance in Hanover is now at about 75%, but there’s concern that Dartmouth students could spread the virus unintentionally.

“We’re getting calls every day both in my office and in dispatch, and I’m also getting a fair number of email complaints from individuals,” she said.

Meanwhile, Enfield resident Thomas Morrill said there are “very few” cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire and accused town officials of attempting to “criminalize” his behavior.

State health officials reported 395 ongoing cases of the virus Monday, with 23 people hospitalized. So far, 417 Granite Staters have died because of coronavirus-related illness.

“I’m one of the ones who you guys are trying to make it seem that if I don’t abide by the paranoia then I need to pay for it,” Morrill told the Selectboard.

Neighboring Lebanon could soon join the two towns in mandating masks, and the City Council will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss its own ordinance. A public hearing on that proposal is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a mask mandate for his entire state that took effect last week.

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

Valley News

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