By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
PLYMOUTH – Mandatory mask ordinances are being considered in towns and cities around the state and one is already in place in Nashua as municipalities grapple on their own with measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
While at least 36 states now have mandatory requirements for mask use in public, New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has resisted calls for such an emergency order.
Instead, he has recommended face masks be worn and this week launched a $100,000 social media campaign “DON’T GO VIRAL” to urge all to wear masks in public.
Plymouth, Keene, Durham, and Portsmouth are considering mandatory mask ordinances.
Communities that host college students in their communities are on the front lines of considering mandatory face mask ordinances to be in place before mid-August when students begin to return to their communities and campuses.
On July 27, a public hearing will be held virtually in Plymouth on a proposed ordinance that would require face coverings in public and workplaces in that town.
Bill Bolton, select board chair, said the hope is that the ordinance would be in place before students return to the Plymouth State University campus beginning Aug. 14.
He noted both Market Basket and Walmart, two large stores in the town, already have mandated masks be worn in their stores. A vote on the ordinance is expected Aug. 10, Bolton said.
Similar measures are contemplated in Durham with a $150 fine for a first offense.
Keene has also resurrected discussions on mandatory face coverings now that Hillsborough County Superior Court judge has refused a request for a preliminary injunction challenging the City of Nashua’s emergency order.
Nashua resident Andrew Cooper challenged the May ordinance, arguing his First Amendment rights were being violated.
The request was denied earlier this month by Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn who called the mask-wearing in a pandemic “common sense.”
Bolton said the select board has been discussing the concept for several months.
A vote on the Plymouth ordinance would be Aug. 10 following the July 27 public hearing.
Under the proposed Plymouth provisions, “employees of all business shall wear a face covering over their mouth and nose when interacting with the public and whenever they are within six feet of a coworker or customer.”
People entering a business including outdoor restaurants must wear the same face coverings. The ordinance exempts children age 10 and under.
The virus has killed 402 residents of the state and sickened 6,295.
While the Plymouth area has been spared the brunt of the impacts the state has experienced, “We want to nip it in the bud and help our business community,” Bolton said.
The ordinance would give business owners some backing for asking customers to wear a mask, Bolton said.
The New Hampshire State House complex is also requiring all to wear a face covering when entering, due to the pandemic.
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff and Senate President Donna Soucy issued an advisory this week that effective immediately, everyone who works in the State House or enters it needs to wear a mask that covers both their nose and mouth.
An exception is made for those under the age of 6 and those who have a medical condition that precludes them from wearing it.
The State House is now closed to the public but it opened to staff on July 6. Prior to that time, only the governor’s office and the Secretary of State’s office were open on the second floor to employees.
The new requirement does not impact those offices, which are controlled by the Executive Branch (the governor.)
The governor said masks are not required on the second floor of the State House but they are being used by his staff when they cannot social distance.
He noted they have not had a single case of COVID-19 that he knows of.
“My staff has been in the State House since March. We have done a great job,” he said.
All House and Senate action has concluded for the year and will resume in the fall following the elections.
“All persons entering and passing within the State House Complex shall wear face coverings which cover the mouth and nose. If a person does not have a proper face covering, one will be provided. An exception to this policy may be made for those persons for whom the wearing of a face covering would be contrary to their health or safety or for children under the age of six.
“Legislators and legislative staff are not required to wear face coverings at those times when they consistently can maintain at least six feet of social distancing. This policy shall apply to all areas of the State House Complex under the use and control of the General Court,” the statement reads.
The policy will be enforced.
“General Court Protective Services shall have the authority to enforce this policy. This policy shall be effective immediately and shall remain effective until either amended or revoked.”