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Town officials shy away from mask requirement

July 09, 2020
WOLFEBORO — Around a dozen letter writers recently asked the town to mandate the wearing of face masks out and about town, prompting a discussion among board members and law enforcement at the July 1 board of selectmen's meeting.

Some writers said they avoid going downtown, especially on weekends, but when they do, they choose to shop where they feel the safest. In some cases, that means going out of town. The writers, including several doctors, urged the town to support CDC guidelines in the fervent hope that Wolfeboro can preserve its low infection rate (seven listed to date on the Health and Human Services Web site). One longstanding summer resident said he chose to forego staying in Wolfeboro this summer without a mask mandate.

Concerns were expressed about whether schools will be able to reopen this fall and whether the rate of Covid-19 infection will spike as it has in other states following reopening.

Town Manager Jim Pineo introduced the topic with the statement that citizens, staff and the emergency operations team has done a good job flattening the curve. The citizenry followed stay at home orders and practiced social distancing according to the governor's order, and the town has "always heavily promoted the wearing of masks and social distancing," he said, "but people are fatigued. We're beginning to see people become lax." He added, "Some establishments are doing a better job than others," but as to the question of whether to make it mandatory, he cautioned that the town doesn't have the resources to enforce compliance.

Police Chief Dean Rondeau agreed.

"We don't have the resources to change behavior," Rondeau said. "Driving through town the other day, almost the whole town was maskless. We can help to educate, but we don't want to be punitive...It's problematic. We don't want to see things shut down again it could easily go the other way. It's in everyone's best interests [to follow the guidelines]. We are all in this together, and we're not over this thing."

Selectman Linda Murray commented that with what she was seeing the previous weekend, maybe a greater police presence is warranted.

Rondeau said that Captain Mark Livie was taking photographs and "seeking discussions with venues not necessarily taking this as seriously as they should. We did have a discussion with one location we've been getting a lot of complaints on. It went very well. We'll keep at it until behaviors change. We'll keep putting pressure on."

"Some businesses are resistant to following the governor's guidelines," commented Police Commissioner Steve Wood, who termed it "troubling."

He added that one wears a mask to protect others, and spoke in agreement with Pineo that people are stressed.

"It's been a long haul," he said. "Nevertheless, it will be a lot longer."

The consensus of the board was that educational efforts and encouragement to follow the CDC and medical experts' guidelines to keep the community healthy need to continue, but it stopped short of superseding the state and federal government position, which yields to personal preferences. Private businesses have the right to limit entrance to their establishments to those who wear masks.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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