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Selectmen encourage mask use, but shy away from ordinance


November 19, 2020
MEREDITH — The board of selectmen is strongly urging people to wear masks to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, but will not pursue a mask ordinance.

During Monday's virtual board meeting, the selectmen made the decision to publicly encourage mask wearing and take out newspaper ads with this recommendation after discussion on a resident's request to have a mask ordinance.

Resident Brian Harris requested that the town enact an ordinance requiring masks. He said he went to the Meredith Cumberland Farms store a few weeks ago and saw most employees and customers weren't wearing masks, making the decision to leave the store and go to the Laconia store where people were wearing masks. He asked the selectmen to consider a mask ordinance like those that have been put in place by 14 other communities in the state.

Harris said his choice to leave that particular store could be a trend with other businesses and result in local businesses being hurt. At the same time, there are a lot of people in town who are high risk and students in the schools are impacted too.

"I believe it's our responsibility to take this step; I think it's easy, I think it can't hurt," Harris said. "If it saves one case or one life, I think it's worth a couple minutes in each of our days to put a mask on."

Town Manager Phil Warren said those 14 communities have different requirements in their ordinances, such as whether masks need to be worn if social distancing isn't possible or have to be worn in public in general. According to state law such an ordinance could be a town ordinance or a health and safety regulation and require a posted public hearing.

Selectman Mike Pelczar has had COVID-19 himself and said while he encourages mask use, he didn't support a mask ordinance. He said this is an opportunity for people to take responsibility by wearing masks. Pelczar said he thought an ordinance would be going in the wrong direction, and education and encouragement was the best approach.

"We're in a world right now every time we pass a code...you're taking someone's rights and freedoms away," Pelczar said. "We're in a world now where everyone wants to tell others how to live their life."

Other members of the board agreed with Pelczar.

Selectman Jonathan James said when he was around town everyone he saw was wearing a mask.

"That was encouraging to see that, but there's always that one percent that says you're not going to make me wear a mask," James said.

Board Chair Ray Moritz said he was concerned an ordinance could have the opposite effect and result in more people refusing to wear masks.

"I have to go with Michael," said selectman Nate Torr. "This is a disease; we've got to treat it as a disease. We don't need to politicize it or any of that nature. You should wear a mask, but if you're going to mandate, there's probably going to be more people who say I'm not going to wear the mask."

Selectman Jeanie Forrester, however, said she wanted to hear what people in the community thought of this before making a decision.

Warren said the state has guidelines asking people to wear masks but doesn't mandate them. James said since the state doesn't mandate the use of masks it might be hard to enforce an ordinance. Warren said businesses are licensed by the state and if they don't use masks they are still going against health and safety guidelines and can have their license put in jeopardy.

James suggested that the selectmen put a statement in newspapers strongly encouraging mask use. Warren said the board could put a display ad in the newspaper voicing this view. Members of the board overall supported this approach and voted unanimously in favor of doing this ad.

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