Lebanon to end mask mandate June 30

  • Lebanon City Manager Shawn Mulholland, left, Mayor Tim McNamara and Jim Winny, a City Council member, watch as McNamara attempts to sign in before the start of the city council meeting on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Lebanon, N.H. This was the first time the City Council has met in person in fifteen months. It also was the first meeting in their newly renovated council chambers. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Attending remotely, members of the public and Lebanon City Councilor Karen Liot Hill participate in a discussion about the city's mask ordnance during a meeting on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Lebanon, N.H. Other members of the council attended in person for the first time in 15 months. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 9:41:14 PM
Modified: 6/16/2021 9:41:26 PM

LEBANON — The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to drop Lebanon’s mask mandate effective June 30, saying the local regulation is no longer needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The city’s ordinance was enacted in August ahead of Dartmouth College’s fall term. Councilors said circumstances have since changed and coronavirus cases have continued to fall since vaccines became available.

But several said they want to allow time for businesses to adapt and give people a final chance to get vaccinated before the mandate ends.

“When it comes to public health, it is better to be cautious,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said at the end of a roughly half-hour-long discussion.

Officials pointed out that Lebanon and its surrounding towns have no reported COVID-19 cases and other metrics have improved since the “winter surge” that saw cases climb around Thanksgiving.

As of Monday, COVID-19 transmission within Grafton County is listed as “minimal” on the New Hampshire online dashboard.

Meanwhile, 61.5% of county residents are fully vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Assistant Mayor Clifton Below added that mask compliance appears to be decreasing as other communities drop their mandates.

“There’s growing non-compliance and it’s very problematic to enforce,” he said. “Businesses are making up their own rules.”

But Councilor Doug Whittlesey expressed concern about rescinding the ordinance. He also pointed out that children under 12 cannot currently get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m just concerned that it feels like we’re pretty strongly discounting their safety,” Whittlesey said.

Councilor Erling Heistad said he’s also concerned about future case spikes, especially with the Delta variant, a highly contagious and more deadly strain of COVID-19 becoming more prevalent in the US.

“I’m just worried about Delta coming down the road and are we going to have problems that we don’t know about now,” he said.

Lebanon is the last New Hampshire city to do away with its mask mandate. Nashua, the first Granite State municipality to enact COVID-19 regulations, lifted its ordinance in late May.

Keene dropped its mandate June 1, followed by Portsmouth a few days later.

Upper Valley communities also have rolled back restrictions in recent weeks. Hanover officials suspended the town’s mask mandate on Monday, following Dartmouth’s commencement ceremony, while Enfield’s mandate is scheduled to end Friday.

Although Lebanon officials have been reluctant to fully lift the mandate, the City Council voted earlier this month to relax some provisions.

The council amended the rules during its last meeting to allow businesses to waive masking and social distancing requirements for people who are fully vaccinated so long as they don’t interact with members of the public.

City Manager Shaun Mulholland also made the decision to allow those who are fully vaccinated to go without masks at the Lebanon Farmers Market.

Meanwhile, Norwich announced the reopening of some of its public buildings, including Tracy Hall, effective Friday.

“The past year has been a struggle and, in some cases, will continue to be a struggle, including with some of our staff and their families that have compromised immune systems,” Town Manager Herb Durfee wrote in an announcement Wednesday. “To that end, it’s important to reopen some of our public areas to mark the successes accomplished in battling COVID-19.”

Durfee’s reopening plan allows those who are fully vaccinated to enter Tracy Hall, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. for government business, such as paying taxes and attending meetings.

While that includes the town clerk’s office, people wishing to visit are asked to first call Town Clerk Bonny Munday to see if a service can be conducted by phone, mail or dropbox at 802-649-1419 or by emailing bmunday@norwich.vt.us.

The Norwich transfer station will continue operating under normal hours but people who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks.

The “plough share” building and “library” at the transfer station also will reopen starting Wednesday, June 23, according to Durfee’s plans.

The fire department and town highway garage will remain closed to the public. And visitors at the police station are allowed only in the vestibule of the building.

Those not fully vaccinated are asked to not enter Norwich’s public buildings unless their presence is approved by a town official first and masking is adhered to.

Other communities, including Lebanon, have reopened their public buildings but continued to hold virtual meetings through the pandemic.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first the Lebanon City Council held in person since the start of the pandemic. A quorum of five members is required to meet physically after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu allowed New Hampshire’s state of emergency to lapse last week.

All councilors aside from Liot Hill, who participated virtually, were present in newly renovated chambers on the bottom floor of City Hall.

“It feels good to do that after 15 months,” Mayor Tim McNamara said after gaveling the meeting to order.

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

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