Face masks will now be required when customers visit stores, restaurants and other business establishments in Nashua.
With a vote of 10-3, the Nashua Board of Aldermen approved the mandate on Thursday night after the city’s Board of Health recently recommended the action to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“If we don’t back up our Board of Health, my God, why do we even have them? Let us show them support,” said Alderman Richard Dowd.
Although the newly-adopted city ordinance does not state a specific fine, the city’s attorney said that in general a violation of a city ordinance carries a maximum fine of up to $1,000 unless stated otherwise. That fine is determined by the court, explained Steve Bolton, corporation counsel for the city.
Some aldermen, including Ben Clemons, were pushing for an initial warning upon a first offense, followed by a $25 fine for a second or subsequent offense, however those recommendations were not supported.
“I can see Nashua becoming a target of right-wing folk who want to demonstrate that they believe this is unconstitutional,” said Clemons, adding he was disappointed that aldermen could not find common ground on a lower fine that focuses more on education and less on punishment.
Clemons said he fears that Nashua will now become a target and individuals will be rallying outside of city hall with their firearms to stand up for their beliefs and causes.
“They have the right to do that, but as we are trying to pass things that make Nashua a friendly place to do business and friendly place to come downtown … if we have people like that protesting outside of city hall every day, it is not exactly the place that I want to go with my family and I might think otherwise to come to Nashua,” he said.
“We can’t give in to the possibility of threats,” said Alderwoman Patricia Klee. Whether the fine is up to $1,000 or $25, Klee said the city will likely still receive some type of reaction from those opposed.
Aldermen said they received numerous emails from citizens about the mask mandate, with about half of those in favor and half of them in opposition. Several city officials said that because Nashua is a border city, it must be extra vigilant because of the high number of cases in Massachusetts.
“The employees have to wear masks and this is because it will protect us, and I think that in order to protect the employees, we need to legislate that people who come into the shops need to wear masks as well — for the employees’ protection,” said Alderwoman Elizabeth Lu.
The idea is to encourage voluntary compliance, Bolton said, stressing the coercive element is not going to play a large role. He said the punishment is a violation with a possible fine left to the discretion of the court, explaining no one is going to be arrested for failing to wear a mask unless the situation escalates and it potentially becomes disruptive.
Police Chief Mike Carignan agreed, saying recently that the primary focus should be on educating the public about the importance of wearing face masks.
The new ordinance does not require children under 10 to wear a face covering, and states that parents should make their own judgment. Although masks must be worn while entering restaurants, they may be removed once diners sit down at a table.
In addition, a face covering is not required for anyone who can show that a medical professional has advised that wearing a face covering may pose a risk because of a health reason.