Update: Lebanon offers details on mask mandate; Hanover, Enfield tout theirs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2020 9:17:01 PM
Modified: 8/13/2020 10:19:50 PM

LEBANON — Officials say signs going up around the city will help alert residents and visitors of a new mask mandate that requires people to cover their noses and mouths inside businesses, government buildings and other public indoor spaces to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Blue signs reading “Masks Required” and directing members of the public to Lebanon’s website will be posted in public spaces and distributed to local businesses, City Manager Shaun Mulholland said at the end of a nearly two-hour meeting Wednesday night.

The city, he added, also has masks on hand for those who either forget theirs or are found to be violating the ordinance, which took effect immediately after it was passed Wednesday.

The nine-member council voted unanimously to impose the new restrictions, which require employees to wear coverings over their noses and mouths when they are within 6 feet of co-workers and customers who are not members of the same household.

Masks must also be worn by customers and other people when inside any “business, governmental or nonprofit,” or while riding on public transportation, such as Advance Transit buses.

Children younger than 10 years old are exempt from those requirements.

The City Council’s decision follows similar mask ordinances adopted in neighboring Hanover and Enfield earlier this month. Officials in both towns say people are complying with the rules and they’ve yet to issue citations.

“Things are going very well so far,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin wrote in an email Wednesday. “Vast number of folks are complying.”

However, Griffin added, health officers have spoken to “numerous young adults at our riverside locations and around town who have not been wearing masks along with some visitors.”

That’s been solved by handing out masks and “lots of education,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hanover Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth reported that complaints about mask-wearing are much lower than expected.

“We expected that we were frankly going to be inundated with calls from concerned citizens about non-compliance,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s been very manageable. so that strongly suggests that compliance is pretty strong.”

Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday issued a statewide mask requirement for gatherings of more than 100 people, but otherwise has left the issue to local municipalities.

In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott passed an order that took effect Aug. 1 requiring face coverings in public outdoor and indoor spaces “any time it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet with others from outside their household.”

Mulholland also is hoping for those in Lebanon to comply with the new rules. Those who refuse to wear a mask could receive a $100 fine for a first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses.

But he told the City Council that an administrative policy will require police to give a warning before issuing citations.

“The goal of this is to deter people from walking around without a mask in places they’re not supposed to be doing that. That is the whole purpose of this, not to write tickets,” he said.

Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said the mask ordinance was requested by small business owners who worried that enforcing their own mask mandates could deter customers.

Businesses throughout the Upper Valley have reported encountering people who flout signs and then refuse to put on a mask when confronted by employees. The problem led the Upper Valley Business Alliance to recently hold a webinar educating local staff and managers on how to de-escalate such situations.

The city’s new mandate, McNamara said, should level the playing field by giving stores a uniform set of rules and help when staff encounter belligerent customers.

City officials also cited Lebanon’s status as a regional employment and transportation hub and pointed to its proximity to Dartmouth College, which will soon draw about 2,300 students back to campus in the coming weeks, as a reason to mandate masks.

“We’ve already seen one shutdown and the impacts of that. We don’t want to see another,” Mulholland said.

Under the ordinance, masks are “strongly recommended” for people using the Northern Rail Trail, Mascoma River Greenway and sidewalks, but not required.

The City Council had initially proposed mandating masks outside, but changed course on Wednesday after some people worried the requirement was too onerous and could be difficult to enforce.

Lebanon resident Tom Cormen said he bikes almost daily and would rather not wear a mask while exercising.

“I try to stay 6 feet away but can’t always because sometimes there are two people walking side-by-side or sometimes the trail is narrow,” he told the City Council. “If I’m passing somebody on my bike and I’m in their 6-foot sphere for under one second, it seems silly for me to have to put on a mask to do that.”

Karen Liot Hill, who initially proposed the outside mandate, agreed but said she’ll be on the lookout for future problems.

“If there is some kind of a spike (in coronavirus cases) or we see testing produce more positive results than we have seen, I would very much like to return to this quickly and move toward a more restrictive mandate,” she said.

People can find out more about Lebanon’s mask ordinance at LebanonNH.gov/Masks.

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

Valley News

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