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As NH’s mask mandate expires, city and town rules remain in place

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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: 4/16/2021 9:58:42 PM
Modified: 4/16/2021 9:58:38 PM

WEST LEBANON — Officials in four Upper Valley communities that enacted local mask mandates say those rules will remain in effect despite the expiration of New Hampshire’s statewide mandate on Friday night.

Ordinances in Lebanon, Hanover, Plainfield and Enfield requiring that masks be worn in public settings will likely continue until more people have a chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to municipal managers. For some, that may mean masking up into the summer months.

“It’s too soon to lift the mask mandate,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said in a phone interview. “We’re not in a hurry at all.”

Griffin said her concern lies with Dartmouth College students, many of whom cannot book a first vaccine appointment until Monday when the state opens its registration system to non-residents. By the time a second dose goes into arms and becomes effective, she said, students could be readying to leave campus and replaced by those arriving for the summer term.

“That’s a fresh crop that you need to make sure are vaccinated,” Griffin said, adding that the Upper Valley also sees an “onslaught” of summer visitors.

About 57% of New Hampshire residents have gotten at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 27% are fully vaccinated. But the average number of coronavirus cases rose by 12% over the past week, standing at 440 new cases daily — just seven short of when the state mask mandate went into effect in mid-November.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said the drop in average daily deaths — now at less than one per day — was reason to do away the mandate, which came about during the “fall surge.”

“We have never set arbitrary dates unsupported by the data and the science,” Sununu said during a Thursday press conference in Concord. “It is important to note that this mandate going away will not limit or prevent the ability of private businesses and local cities and towns from requiring masks.”

Griffin said she was “disappointed” in the governor’s announcement and intends to work alongside Dartmouth, which has its own mask mandate, over the coming months.

“We’re going to be very cautious, as I think every college community should be, and slower to lift the mask mandate,” she said.

Hanover is among about 18 Granite State municipalities that last year turned to mask mandates to help mitigate the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The town’s mandate, which took effect Aug. 10, was also partially driven by the return of students to Dartmouth, which planned to bring 2,200 undergraduates back to campus under its limited reopening.

Under Hanover’s rules, outdoor mask-wearing is 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.

Lebanon’s nine-member City Council voted to adopt similar restrictions a week later.

Its rules 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.

The city ordinance also makes masks mandatory for customers and other people when inside any “business, governmental or nonprofit,” or while riding on public transportation.

“The ordinance is in full effect. Until it’s rescinded or amended by the City Council, it will remain so,” said Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland.

“The majority of people still have not been vaccinated, and that’s the concern that we have,” he added, saying it’s possible many won’t have the chance to develop immunity until July.

While Lebanon’s ordinance calls for a $100 fine for a first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses, Mulholland said police were never forced to issue tickets. But he’s not so sure compliance will be as easily achieved now.

“I think it will be more difficult because more people are COVID-fatigued already,” Mulholland said, adding that warmer weather could contribute to people letting their guard down.

Plainfield and Enfield officials also sent notices to residents via online messages Friday that their mask mandates will be enforced. Meredith Smith, chairwoman of the Enfield Selectboard, said the three-member group will likely discuss the matter during their Monday meeting.

“I’m hoping that they will keep the mandate,” she said. “I don’t think we’re through yet.”

In communities without their own mask mandate, it will be up to private interests to decide whether to mandate masks inside stores, restaurants and businesses.

Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance, said she hasn’t heard many concerns from the group’s members. Still, she worries that it’s too soon to remove the mask mandate.

Before it went into effect, she said, a lot of businesses had trouble with customers who violated their mask requirements and became belligerent when approached.

“Having the statewide mask mandate helped quell that. It was universal all across the state,” Hutchins said. “I have some concerns that we are now going to go back to some people thinking that the crisis is over and we don’t have to wear a mask. It just makes it really difficult on businesses to not have that backup.”

Another challenge that Hutchins sees on the horizon is Sununu’s expected rollback of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, which are set to expire May 7.

Restaurants and retail businesses have called to be allowed to open at full capacity but it’s not yet clear that enough customers are comfortable coming back, Hutchins said.

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




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