Face Masks Still Required in Some NH Municipalities

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Portsmouth's website is clear that its mask mandate remains in effect.


CONCORD – Whether you need to “mask-up” depends on where you are in New Hampshire these days.

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu decided to drop the statewide mask mandate, citing good news on the vaccine front here, despite increasing hospitalizations and new cases.

While announcing that he would not renew Emergency Order #74, which expired Friday, he noted that cities and towns, and businesses across the state, can still require people and employees to wear masks.
And that, it appears, is what they are doing.

A review over the weekend of the websites for 13 cities and towns across the state that have enacted their own mask ordinances or resolutions show that all are continuing with their own ordinances for the time being despite the governor.

Nashua, the first city to enact the ordinance in May 2020, is keeping theirs.
Andrew Cooper sued Nashua but the city successfully prevailed in court and its ordinance was followed in August by a number of college towns expecting an influx of coeds. It was accompanied by a number of other cities, some of which imposed penalties.

Plymouth, Durham, Keene, Portsmouth, Exeter, Newmarket, Concord, Dover, Stratham, Newington, Plainfield, Lebanon, Enfield, Hanover, and Franconia took action.

Other communities, including Berlin, Rollinsford, Gorham, New London, Lyme, and Somersworth passed unenforced mask resolutions which may or may not be revisited in the coming days.

The City of Manchester Health Department issued recommendations, https://www.manchesternh.gov/Departments/Fire/Emergency-Center/EOC-Announcements but no ordinance.

Beginning on Nov. 20, 2020, the statewide mandatory mask order required “all persons over the age of 5 within the State of New Hampshire shall wear a mask or cloth face covering over their noses and mouths any time they are in public spaces, indoors or outdoors, where they are unable to or do not consistently maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from persons outside their own households.”

It followed the Aug. 11, 2020 rule to wear masks in gatherings of more than 100 people.

The governor said last Thursday the only thing that was changing Friday is the statewide mask mandate not the local ones, but he warned the health crisis is not over just yet.

He said masks are “a good idea when we cannot maintain social distancing.”

Driving his decision, he said, is the fact that almost 70 percent of all eligible residents either have the vaccine to largely prevent COVID-19 or have made an appointment to get vaccinated before the end of May. That signaled a change of situation for him, he said, superseding concerns about recent growth rates of transmission and hospitalizations.

Sununu said those municipalities with mask ordinances will still have the rights and flexibility to maintain them, just as private businesses and schools can continue to set their own rules which may be more restrictive.

The CDC maintains that mask-wearing has been a “critical tool in the fight against COVID-19” and that when used universally in a community it has been helpful in reducing the spread of the virus.

Social distancing, contact tracing to notify people of potential exposure, washing hands frequently, and in more recent months, getting the vaccination have been other tools that have been helpful, it states.

A review of some of the community-specific rules and websites follow:
The city of Nashua posted on its website this past Friday that its face-covering ordinance remains in effect “until further notice.”
A press release, also on the site said “Private businesses, organizations, and cities and towns retain the authority to require customers/residents to wear face coverings.”

The city cited heightened cases and hospitalizations for retaining the ordinance.
“The city of Nashua Board of Health is in the process of developing evidence-based criteria for maintaining or removing the face-covering ordinance,” it stated.

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said, “If we want to eradicate the virus, we need to continue to wear masks and we all need to get vaccinated.”

The Plymouth Selectboard will meet next on April 26 but its mask ordinance, passed Aug. 10, 2020 is here http://www.plymouth-nh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Mask-Ordinance-Approved.pdf. and remains in effect.

Plymouth State University, which is in session through May, has its own rules.
The town ordinance states that a fine of $100 in the first instance and $200 in the second may be levied against a person for failure to comply and notes that the ordinance will remain in effect for 30 days following the governor’s lifting of a state of emergency.

While it indicates people do not have to wear masks outside if they can achieve social distancing, it says the masks should be worn at businesses and businesses should require employees to wear masks.

The city of Keene posted on its website last week that the mask ordinance remains in effect. It too has students at Keene State who live in the downtown area through May and it, too, has its own set of rules.

A number of town FAQs are answered here https://ci.keene.nh.us/covid-19/face-coverings-required-faq.
The city issued its ordinance on Aug. 6, 2020.
It indicates the ordinance will be terminated immediately once the governor lifts the state of emergency.

The governor said last Thursday that he was not in a hurry to lift the state of emergency, noting federal money is tied to it and that it might not be until the end of this year.

The Keene ordinance indicates that the public, while in public “are required to wear face masks.” It adds that employees of all businesses in the city must wear face masks unless barriers are constructed and approved by the city’s health department. It notes that the ordinance shall not preclude businesses from more restrictive policies.

Durham so far has issued four extensions to its emergency ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings and it may do so again. The most recent readoption was on Feb. 15.

It states the ordinance shall be effective as of “the 61st day following the date on which it was adopted, but this shall not prevent reenacted of the ordinance by the Town Council in the manner specified in Sect.3.9 of the Charter if the emergency still exists.”

It indicates a penalty as high as $500 for the third offense of a violation.

“The Town Council understands that the Durham Police Department may handle complaints regarding non-compliance with this Ordinance as a lower priority” for calls for service but “because COVID-19 presents a clear and present danger to the general Durham population it behooves the community for the Town Council to implement this emergency measure….”

On Aug. 10, the Hanover Selectboard issued its emergency mask ordinance related to COVID-19.
It notes that businesses asked for the ordinance “to assist them in requiring customers to wear masks,” and also goes on to say citizens have “repeatedly” requested the state to implement a mandatory mask order for a number of reasons, chiefly to reduce the viral spread and to increase the sense of safety…”

Like Durham, Hanover’s ordinance focuses on the densely settled downtown district and applies to everyone from age 2 to mask up.
As to the expiration, it does not rely on the governor but on local control.

The order “shall remain in effect until notice is given that it is no longer necessary because the Hanover Selectboard declares that a Public Health Emergency no longer poses a threat to Hanover citizens.”


The banner headline on the city of Portsmouth’s municipal website this weekend was that the city’s mask ordinance remains in effect and will be through at least June 30, 2021. It’s requirements are here https://www.cityofportsmouth.com/sites/default/files/2021-04/MaskOrdinanceFAQs%202021.04.16.pdf
While not a college town, Portsmouth is near UNH in Durham and a tourist and restaurant magnate for the region. It requires masks indoors and out in all places accessible to the public where physical distancing of six feet cannot be achieved for those not in the same household.

“Governor Sununu supports the decision by any business or municipality to require mask-wearing,” it reads and is backed up by his Emergency Order #52.
“Masks are not required to be worn by a single person in an office with the door shut but are required if more than one person is in the office and physical distancing of 6 feet is not possible or where there is no barrier such as a Plexiglass divider between workers.”

Face coverings, it said, must be worn in houses of worship whenever congregants are not seated six feet apart from members, not in their household.

There is a fine and “those who refuse to pay…are subject to court proceedings.”

Until rescinded by the City Council, Lebanon has a mask ordinance https://lebanonnh.gov/1405/Mask-Ordinance which was enacted on Aug. 12, 2020.

The mask ordinance will continue in the town of Exeter until at least May 29. https://www.exeternh.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/select_board/page/56971/mask_ordinance_extension_to_may_29_2021.pdf

The town of New London’s website indicates it will continue with its resolution requiring face masks to be worn in public. The resolution, drafted Aug. 17, 2020, notes there is no fine but is a “good faith effort to encourage” masks to be worn. It states that it will expire when town officials declare there is no need for the health measure.

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