Keene considers mask rule change

  • A discarded mask gets blown around the streets of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Rick Beauchesne

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 5/10/2021 5:36:26 PM

Keene is moving forward with reassessing its mask mandate after a city councilor suggested cutting the part about outdoor mask-wearing.

During Thursday’s City Council meeting, Mayor George Hansel brought an amended version of the ordinance to the table, which proposes removing the provision that requires masks to be worn in outdoor areas where business is conducted. This request was made late last month by Councilor Randy Filiault, who pitched the citywide mandate about a year ago.

“I had several councilors reach out to me with the idea of crafting an ordinance that would remove the outdoor requirement for masks,” Hansel said at the meeting. “Basically what we’re doing here is putting an ordinance on the table. It will be referred to the Planning, Licenses and Development Committee for them to debate and talk about, and they may move ahead in this direction or they may not.”

Hansel added that because the city’s process calls for two readings of ordinances in front of the full council before they can be passed, it would require two cycles (or four weeks) of council meetings before the new ordinance could take effect.

Filiault, who requested the council reassess the ordinance shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its own guidelines for outdoor mask-wearing, said he wanted to start the process sooner rather than later because of the delay between when an ordinance is proposed and how soon it can be adopted.

He said he decided to propose the change due to the growing number of people in New Hampshire and Cheshire County who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. While there’s still a way to go, he said, by June 1 — the earliest the revised ordinance could be adopted — he expects enough people to be vaccinated to warrant removing the outdoor provision of the mandate.

He also said this would clear up questions about when it is and isn’t all right to be maskless outside, noting that the mandate already contains some exceptions, such as eating on a restaurant patio.

“This just eliminates any gray area,” he said. “There’s been a little bit of confusion about what was mandated outdoors and what wasn’t.”

Filiault originally proposed a citywide mask ordinance last May, using language similar to an ordinance that had passed in Nashua. However, when that mandate was challenged in court, Filiault withdrew his proposal, pending a judge’s ruling.

When the Nashua law was upheld, Filiault revived the proposal in July. After heated debate among community members, the council adopted the ordinance in August.

As it presently stands, Keene’s mask ordinance will sunset automatically when New Hampshire’s COVID-19 state of emergency expires. But Filiault said that most people who want to get vaccinated will have been able to do so by late spring, and he feels that at that point, it will be the right time to consider the future of the ordinance as a whole.

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