MANCHESTER, N.H. – Does Manchester need to require its residents to wear masks? That question remains unanswered, but it certainly got plenty of discussion on Tuesday night.
The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen talked at length about a proposed ordinance to require the wearing of masks in the city as part of an update from Manchester Health Department Director Anna Thomas.
Thomas introduced the concept last month as a measure to help hasten the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in Manchester, adding that wearing masks is only effective if the vast majority of residents comply.
Alderman Elizabeth Moreau (Ward 6) asked Thomas why the ordinance was needed when COVID-19 rates are declining without a mask ordinance, with Thomas giving multiple reasons in response.
Thomas sees the concept as a vehicle to educate the public on the importance of wearing masks if they are not wearing one already. She also sees the proposed ordinance as a way to help business owners who wish to enforce their own policies on requiring customers to wear masks but fear offending customers who do not comply.
Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3) confirmed that he has received complaints from business owners drawn into confrontations with customers who do not wish to respect mask policies.
“I’ve been getting calls weekly about people encroaching on (businesses) when they ask them to leave and there was an issue, so that still goes on,” said Long in regard to customers refusing to wear masks when asked. “There are people who have a right and a freedom to have their six feet. When someone encroaches on that, they have their freedom to ask them to leave, but they get verbally assaulted.”
Although proposed language in the ordinance cited a fine of up to $1,000, Thomas said that Nashua has not issued a citation since passing a similar ordinance in May and she couldn’t envision her staff ever issuing a citation.
“I don’t want to issue citations for anybody, I just want people to wear masks,” she said.
Alderman Mike Porter (Ward 8) expressed concerns about a portion of the proposed ordinance indicating that the Manchester Police and Fire Departments would be required to “diligently” enforce the new ordinance. Porter said that masks are important, but the Police Department does not have the resources to enforce the ordinance if it is passed, adding that he is more concerned with other issues impacting quality of life such as recent shootings, stabbings and residents being harassed downtown by groups of children on bicycles.
Thomas replied that she did not foresee police enforcing the ordinance, reiterating that the ordinance would mostly be an educational tool for the Health Department to let people without masks know why they should wear one.
Alderman Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) questioned the urgency of the ordinance, asking why the Administration and Information Systems Committee hearing on the ordinance earlier in the day had been cancelled.
Alderman Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5), the chairman of the Administration and Information Systems Committee, told the full board that he took full responsibility for the cancellation, but did not elaborate further during the meeting.
Hirschmann, like Moreau, felt the proposed ordinance is not necessary to end the pandemic.
“This country was founded on liberties and it’s getting to the point where personal responsibility and choice have been working,” he said. “We’ve stayed at home, we’ve done everything we’ve been told to do. When you look at the dashboard numbers now, the numbers aren’t just flattening, they’ve been crushed.”
For Thomas, the timing of the ordinance came out of respect for the procedures of the Aldermanic board, telling Hirschmann that if it were up to her, the ordinance would have been in place already.
Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) said he would support a measure from the board urging people to wear masks and added that he wears masks whenever he is inside and within six feet of someone or when asked to do so entering a business. However, he felt that current ordinances are not being enforced and this ordinance would be much harder to enforce than those ordinances already on the books.
“I don’t get why we have to shove this down people’s throats like bullies,” he said. “I think the carrot is much better than the stick.”
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig told members of the board that when the ordinance is discussed within the Administration and Information Systems Committee, that Committee can reword the proposal if it so chooses.
In addition to Nashua, other towns and cities passing mask mandates to date include Concord, Keene, Enfield, New London, Lebanon, Hanover, Lyme, Plymouth, Durham, Newmarket and Exeter, with Concord passing their ordinance on Monday. In Lyme and New London, the measures were passed as requests.