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Peterborough drafting potential mask ordinance

  • The Peterborough Town House Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Face masks are available through the state for all New Hampshire businesses . Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/23/2020 1:11:34 PM
Modified: 10/23/2020 1:11:23 PM

The Peterborough Select Board has directed their administration to draft a potential mask ordinance for the town, in an attempt to combat “complacency” among a populace that has been dealing with pandemic restrictions since this spring.

The board met with Fire Chief Ed Walker Tuesday to discuss four members of the fire and rescue team who have tested positive for COVID-19. Walker said the department has been vigilant about wearing proper protective equipment when interacting with the public, but admitted they have gotten “complacent” about maintaining masks and social distancing among each other, saying the positive tests “highlighted” a need for more vigilant procedures when staff are interacting.

Walker said it is believed the first employee to test positive with the virus spread it to the other three while they were asymptomatic.

Select Board members Ed Juengst and Tyler Ward said it may be time to take a stronger step, and implement a mask ordinance in town.

Juengst said as time has gone on, “fatigue” and “complacency” have started to set in, and he is seeing people in businesses without masks, and those businesses not enforcing masking policies.

“I know the whole mask thing is controversial,” Juengst said. “I think political leaders, even at our level, have to have the courage to do whatever they can to make it clear that the expectation is to wear a mask and social distance. We see a clear example right here of how easy it can spread.”

Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay told the board it is within their purview to establish an ordinance requiring businesses to enforce a mask policy for the public, though noted there are some limitations to that power, including exemptions for medical reasons – which she noted, is difficult to enforce, because residents do not have to show any proof of need for a medical exemption. She said businesses found not to be enforcing the mask ordinances would be fined, not the individuals shopping there.

Businesses do have the option of refusing admittance to anyone refusing to wear a mask, as long as the customer can still be served without them entering the physical premises. 

Ward said he would be in favor of a mask ordinance, saying, “It’s clear the personal responsibility aspect isn’t there for everyone.”

Selectman Bill Taylor cautioned that attempting to put a mask ordinance in place could backfire.

“My concern, and I’ll say it for the record, is it will have the opposite effect that you’re looking for,” Taylor said, noting there may be people who are currently complying with mask-wearing and social distancing who may decide to forego that behavior as a way to “stick it to the man.”

Walker noted that in the state of New Hampshire, the majority of cases seem to be traced back to people spreading germs while in planned interactions with family, friends and co-workers, not while patronizing businesses. He said enforcement should be the last step in a process that should begin with encouragement and education.

The board still directed MacStay to present a draft to the board, and plan for a potential public hearing after the Nov. 3 election, but Ward said he would also welcome further education efforts around mask wearing.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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