Enfield, Hanover and Lebanon will consider mandates on face coverings in public places

  • Virginia Clerkin wears a mask while walking down South Main Street in Hanover, N.H., where she is the manager of J. Crew, Monday, July 27, 2020. The Town of Hanover will hold a public hearing on a mask ordinance next week. Currently signs throughout the downtown area request the use of face masks. A short time later Dwight Campbell, of West Lebanon, passed by on his way to a meeting with a friend and said he was pleased to see the majority of people on the street wearing masks. “I’m sorry that there’s a particular confusion between notions of personal freedom and simple things that people can do to protect themselves and others,” said Campbell, a retired surgeon, of those that don’t wear face coverings. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley newsphotographs — James M. Patterson

  • A man who declined to give his name passes by a sign in Hanover, N.H., requesting that visitors wear face masks, Monday, July 27, 2020. The town will hold a public hearing on a mask ordinance next week. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • A discarded surgical mask lies in a Hanover, N.H., parking lot Monday, July 27, 2020. The town will hold a public hearing on a mask ordinance next week. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2020 9:31:39 PM
Modified: 7/27/2020 9:31:33 PM

HANOVER — Three of the biggest New Hampshire towns in the heart of the Upper Valley are considering mandatory requirements that people entering public spaces wear a face covering to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Lebanon City Council will discuss the matter at its Aug. 5 meeting, and Hanover and Enfield have scheduled public hearings next Monday, Aug. 3.

Other towns may also follow suit. Lyme intends to hold preliminary talks on Thursday, while the Plainfield Selectboard plans to bring up the issue Monday, officials from those municipalities said.

Proponents say the rules could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ease the burden of local businesses worried about enacting or enforcing their own mask policies.

There’s also hope that requiring masks will deter Dartmouth College students from engaging in risky behavior upon their return to campus in September.

“Our residents are getting increasingly nervous about students coming back,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said Monday. “I’m getting a lot of emails and outreach from residents asking ‘can’t we tell them they can’t come back?’ ”

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged all Americans to wear a face mask when leaving the house, and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a mask order in his state that takes effect on Saturday.

Face coverings, the CDC says, help prevent droplets that could carry the coronavirus from traveling into the air when the person coughs, sneezes or raises their voice.

Studies and public health officials have shown that masks reduce the spread of the virus, Enfield Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth said.

And while many businesses already request that customers wear them, he said, some customers refuse.

Customers who flout signs and then become belligerent when asked to put on a mask are increasingly becoming problems for businesses, according to Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance.

The local chamber of commerce recently held a webinar teaching employees how to de-escalate such situations. But even with those tools, she said, it can be hard for a manager or owner to approach customers.

“It’s really tough for business owners to tell a customer who comes into their business who is not wearing a mask ‘please wear a mask’ because they’re risking losing a customer,” Hutchins said. “And they can’t afford to lose customers right now.”

Aylesworth hopes that Enfield’s proposed mandate could help by shifting the blame away from business owners.

The Selectboard on Monday will discuss whether to adopt an ordinance calling on those at least 10 years old to wear a face-covering while inside businesses, worksites or government buildings. Employees who cannot maintain six feet of separation from customers or coworkers also would be required to wear masks, while people eating at sit-down restaurants would be exempt.

Those in violation would receive a written warning under the Enfield proposal. A second offense would warrant a $25 fine and a third offense would come with a $50 penalty.

Griffin, who is in the process of drafting Hanover’s ordinance, said it also will include fines. But town officials are hoping it won’t come to that.

“We’re not eager to go out and start hitting people with citations,” she said, adding public health officials will instead attempt to educate those without masks.

Griffin added that Hanover’s proposal will likely include sidewalks, parking lots and congested outdoor spaces, including downtown.

There’s also talk of using the town’s outdoor activities ordinance to limit private parties to a set number of people, she said.

Officials currently only require a permit for parties using sound amplification or impacting sidewalks.

“There’s a fair amount of off-campus socializing that’s going on involving large gatherings and that makes us nervous,” she said.

Dartmouth College plans to reopen its campus to roughly half of its 4,400 students in September, with those returning undergoing mandatory testing and a 14-day quarantine.

Still, Griffin said, she’s worried about students who return to Hanover either because of existing off-campus leases or to be with friends. If those students aren’t engaged in in-person lear ning, their activities may not fall under Dartmouth’s purview, she warned.

“One population that tends not to be focused on masks and social distancing is the young adult population,” Griffin said.

Officials in the state’s other college towns — such as Durham and Plymouth — also are debating their own mask mandates after Gov. Chris Sununu declined to issue a statewide order. New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a mask mandate.

Sununu said Thursday he supports municipalities taking action, but wouldn’t force one set of rules on all Granite Staters.

“Understand, a statewide basis is a very different situation,” Sununu said during a news conference in Concord. “Manchester is not Colebrook and Plymouth is not Pittsfield. Everything is a little bit different. And so, those towns can make those decisions on their own because we are so different.”

Not every city or town is moving to a mandate. Claremont, for instance, approved a resolution strongly encouraging the use of masks in public spaces but decided not to make it mandatory, according to City Manager Ed Morris. And Newport is not considering one either, according to Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg.

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

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