With aldermen set to meet remotely this week to debate the merits of a mask ordinance in Manchester, supporters and opponents of the proposal spent the weekend voicing their opinions via email.
The Aldermanic Committee on Administration and Information Systems, which meets Monday at 5 p.m., gets first crack at the mask mandate. The matter could then be referred to the full board for a vote as early as Tuesday.
The ordinance would require people to wear a mask inside any public or government building, unless they can stay at least six feet away from other people. It would require people to keep their masks on for most activities, including those like bowling. Restaurant patrons would be able to remove their masks to eat after they sit down.
Several New Hampshire cities and towns have implemented mask requirements, including Nashua, Concord, Portsmouth, Keene, Durham and Hanover.
According to the Manchester ordinance’s language, failure to comply with the mandate technically could be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, but city Health Director Anna Thomas has repeatedly said public education is the main goal of the ordinance, with fines being issued only as a last resort.
Under the proposal, the city’s public health director and police and fire departments would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.
The ordinance first appeared on the agenda for the Aldermanic Committee on Administration and Information Systems in early September, but that meeting was canceled after Alderman Tony Sapienza, the committee chairman, said he was unable to attend due to a work conflict.
Ward 8 Alderman Mike Porter said his opinion on the mandate hasn’t changed in the weeks since it was first proposed,
“I strongly oppose a face covering ordinance in the city,” said Porter over the weekend. “I strongly encourage everybody to wear a face covering but will not vote to mandate it. A plain reading of the proposed ordinance places an unnecessary burden on our already overburdened police and fire departments, and has the potential to create negative contacts between the public and our first responders.”
Porter added he strongly opposes the language involving “up to a $1,000 fine.”
“This ordinance will only encourage a form of mask vigilantism by the public,” said Porter. “The ordinance will create more problems than it solves.”
Other aldermen share Porter’s concerns.
“I don’t support the ordinance as written because it is too onerous,” said Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio. “I will consider a less restrictive ordinance that focuses on education over fines and is limited in what areas are covered.”
“We should be meeting at City Hall and the mandatory mask ordinance is not needed, as people are doing safe things on their own, and there literally would be no enforcement,” said Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann. “Seems this administration is following a national agenda.”
“While I encourage people to wear a mask when they cannot socially distance themselves from others, I stand firm in my opposition to the government mandating an unenforceable ordinance demanding they do so,” said Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur.
Several local health care leaders have emailed in support of the ordinance.
“The right kind of face covering, worn properly, is a simple yet effective tool to protect people,” wrote Dr. Joseph Pepe, president and CEO of Catholic Medical Center, in an email to city officials. “Wearing a mask in public, at work, and around the medically vulnerable helps significantly reduce the risk of transmitting infected droplets.”
“Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health stands with the city of Manchester and applauds the city for enacting a face covering ordinance,” write Joanne M. Conroy, president and CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, and Dr. Maria D. Padin, chief medical officer of the Southern Dartmouth-Hitchcock Region/Community Group Practice, in an email. “The effectiveness of face masks is backed by science, as demonstrated by the CDC’s studies and findings. Face masks have the greatest impact on slowing the spread of the virus if we all wear them in public.”
“Representing long-term care facilities — including over a half-dozen within the Manchester city limits — the New Hampshire Health Care Association strongly supports the proposed Manchester mask mandate, as it has such mandates in other local jurisdictions,” writes Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, in an email to city officials.
“Modeling relied upon by the states and the White House shows that increased mask wearing would very significantly reduce the number of projected infections and deaths.”