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Lebanon City Council revisiting indoor mask mandate

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    Jack LaBay, of Lebanon, N.H., shops for his dog Douglas at West Lebanon Feed & Supply on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in West Lebanon, N.H. The store requires all customers to wear masks. Douglas said he is vaccinated for COVID-19. "I don't have a problem putting one on," he said, referring to wearing a mask in the store. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2021 9:25:53 PM
Modified: 8/25/2021 9:25:56 PM

LEBANON — City officials will vote next week on plans to once again require the use of masks inside Lebanon businesses and public facilities.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing next Wednesday night on a draft ordinance that calls for face coverings in “any business, governmental, or nonprofit owned premises.”

If the rules are passed, they will take effect immediately.

Mayor Tim McNamara said Wednesday that there appears to be strong support from councilors to enact the mandate, largely because coronavirus cases continue to trend upward in the Twin States.

“It seems to be climbing and doesn’t seem to be dropping,” he said.

When Lebanon’s mandate expired in late June, COVID-19 transmission within Grafton County was listed as “minimal” and the state was averaging about 20 new cases a day, according to the New Hampshire’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

Now, the Granite State is reporting 290 new cases a day and every county is listed as having “substantial” transmission levels.

City councilors noted last week that many people already wear masks while shopping or attending indoor events. Of the roughly 30 people who were present at the council’s Aug. 18 meeting, only a handful went maskless.

Meanwhile, the Lebanon Opera House, which returned to in-person, indoor performances this week, is requiring all patrons, staff, crew and volunteers to wear a face covering at all times while inside the building, which is shared with Lebanon’s municipal staff.

Lebanon businesses, including the Hanover Co-op, Lucky’s Coffee Garage and West Lebanon Feed & Supply also reinstated in-store mask mandates in recent weeks.

“It’s something that we feel is responsible for us to do to protect our staff and customers,” Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply, said in an interview.

He said the decision to require masks was made several weeks ago as delta variant began to climb in New England. The precaution isn’t just meant to help adults working at or visiting the business, but also their children who don’t yet have access to vaccines.

“We would love to see the city step up and put the ordinance back in place like Hanover did,” Jacques said. “It would help take some of the pressure off the business.”

Elizabeth Asch, owner of the River Valley Club, said she began requiring patrons and staff to wear masks a few weeks ago when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed COVID-19 transmission in the region as “substantial.”

“We have decided that as long as Grafton County is in the orange or red zone, substantial or high, we will be requiring masks of people regardless of their vaccination status,” she said in a voicemail.

A draft of the new mask ordinance circulated to city councilors last week would require people over 3 years old to mask up while indoors.

However, businesses could make exceptions for employees who are fully vaccinated, so long as they aren’t interacting with members of the public.

The proposed ordinance also would allow people to remove their masks while seated at a restaurant or when purchasing items that require employees to verify their age.

If approved, breaking the mandate could result in a $100 fine for first offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses. But city officials have repeatedly said much of their efforts involve educating the public and verbal warnings, and citations are issued as a last resort.

While the rules don’t apply to school buildings, the Lebanon School Board was scheduled Wednesday night to approve a reopening plan that would require all staff and students to wear masks indoors.

“I have every confidence that the board will approve the five-day (reopening) plan, which will have everyone wearing masks,” School Board Chairman Dick Milius said before the meeting.

Lebanon isn’t alone in rolling back its reopening plans. The Enfield Selectboard voted earlier this month to require masks inside its municipal buildings.

That town on Monday issued rules saying that “town employees, board and committee members, as well as members of the general public” are now required to wear face coverings in the public portions of town buildings.

That includes the lobbies, hallways and meetings areas of Whitney Hall, the police station and the public works facility.

Masking isn’t required in the Enfield Community Building for voluntary recreational events, the rules said.

Nearby, Hanover also now requires masks be worn indoors in its downtown.

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




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