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Bethlehem ponders mask ordinance

September 10, 2020
BETHLEHEM — At the Aug. 31 board meeting, Bethlehem's selectmen considered the feasibility of a town-wide mask ordinance. After receiving public input, the board decided to table the idea for the interim and revisit it should there be a spike in local case numbers.

The Select Board currently has a two-page drafted ordinance that requires people to don masks at all indoor venues. Although it "strongly recommends" that people also wear masks while walking on sidewalks, trails and public lands, there would be no fine for failure to comply. Board members did not indicate what the violation fees would be.

According to Selectman Mary Moritz, the conversation about masks began while board members were developing a litter ordinance.

She said, "I was trying to eliminate an extra two public hearings if necessary. The feedback that I received was that if we make an ordinance and it's not one that can be monitored easily, it could potentially weaken the resolve of other ordinances."

The majority of board members were against the idea, stating that it was up to local businesses to determine face-covering policies.

Selectman Bruce Caplain said, "I struggle with this one. I don't think we are going about it the right way. I think it is the businesses that should be requiring them, and we should be supporting the businesses that require them."

Caplain continued, " I also don't want to see the police running around being the mask police. They have better things to do than stopping people and fining them. I think their energies could be spent elsewhere."

Fire Chief Jack Anderson said the community has thus far been respectful of mask requirements and the town has maintained low case numbers.

He noted, "We survived the whole summer now with an influx of tourists from all over the New England states and beyond, and we still, as of right now, have only had three cases in our town. What you have to do with an ordinance is to try to minimize the number of unintended consequences."

Moritz said the intent was to raise the question and get public input. The majority of meeting attendees were opposed to a mask ordinance, citing concerns about the negative impact on outdoor recreation and tourism and the cost of enforcement for taxpayers.

Some attendees voiced concerns about school openings and the looming flu season leading to a potential spike in positive COVID cases. Ultimately, the Select Board decided to refine the ordinance language and hold it in reserve. There is currently a mask requirement to enter the Bethlehem Town Hall.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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