Council to vote on new mask mandate 

  • Gibson’s Bookstore owner Michael Hermann wears a mask outside the entrance of the store on Thursday afternoon, January 6, 2021. Signs outside Gibson’€™s tell unvaccinated they must wear masks and that masks for vaccinated people are “€œstrongly encouraged.”€ GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Gibson’€™s Bookstore owner Michael Hermann wears a mask inside the entrance of the store on Thursday afternoon, January 6, 2021. Signs outside Gibson’s tell unvaccinated they must wear masks and that masks for vaccinated people are “€œstrongly encouraged.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/8/2022 12:45:59 PM
Modified: 1/8/2022 12:45:07 PM

The Concord City Council will consider implementing a new mask ordinance on Monday after other New Hampshire cities have begun reinstating requirements amid rising COVID-19 cases.

The proposed ordinance, which would apply to businesses and city buildings, requires members of the public to wear face coverings indoors and employees to mask up around customers or within six feet of coworkers. It would also apply to people inside communal spaces in residential or commercial buildings with more than 2 units.

In December, Keene and Nashua brought back mask mandates for indoor public spaces and Manchester and Portsmouth began requiring masks inside municipal buildings.

Instead of an expiration date, the ordinance in Concord would be tied to the Centers for Disease Controls’ rate of community transmission. That rate is calculated based on the percentage of new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days and the percentage of positive nucleic acid amplification tests within the last seven days. When the spread is defined as “low,” the ordinance would be lifted. The last time Merrimack County’s transmission rate was listed as “low” was in July, according to CDC data.

As of Jan. 7, the community transmission rate for Merrimack County is “high,” with 792 cases per 100,000 over the last seven days, according to the CDC. Nearly the entire United States is listed at a “high” level of transmission.

A previous mask ordinance that expired in June applied to Concord retail businesses, but not to restaurants, which were covered under an executive order from the governor.

The new ordinance would apply to people regardless of vaccination status, but ex empts people who cannot wear masks because of health conditions and children under 5 years old.

Diners can take off masks to eat or drink inside restaurants and gym patrons can use equipment without masks if they remain at least six feet away from others. People receiving personal care services like haircuts or facials can remove masks “during any limited period during which the face covering interferes with the performing of the service.”

The Concord mask rule would not apply to religious institutions, state or federal government buildings or schools.

Gibson’s Bookstore owner Michael Hermann was among those who submitted public testimony to the City Council in support of a mandate. Signs outside the bookstore tell unvaccinated customers they must wear masks and that masks for vaccinated customers are “strongly encouraged.”

“But people walk past signs without seeing them, and they are getting lax about best COVID practices. We need help from the City to reinvigorate the message,” Hermann wrote. “We have no expectations that a mask mandate is 100% enforceable. It doesn’t have to be. We just want to improve the odds.”

Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber surveyed its members before the previous mask ordinance was passed in summer 2020. After receiving mixed feedback, the Chamber didn’t take a position.

This time, Sink informally asked Concord business owners what they thought. “There’s not a really strong consensus that I’m seeing,” he said. “It’s kind of a murky issue.”

On one hand, being able to point to a city ordinance provides cover for retailers to insist that customers mask up. However, Sink said other business owners don’t want to be in the position of enforcing a mandate or asking their workers to do so.

Under the ordinance, a first offense would mean a verbal or written warning, a second offense could mean a fine of up to $25, and a third offense could cost up to $50.

Sink said that the Chamber of Commerce itself has conducted events in a hybrid fashion and asks people to wear masks during in-person events. The Chamber has postponed a monthly networking event scheduled for this month until February because of the spread of COVID.

Beginning on Jan. 10, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will begin issuing citations for businesses with more than 100 employees that don’t comply with a rule requiring workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Sink said his organization is doing outreach to larger businesses to make sure they understand the process and reporting requirements, which he called “burdensome.”

New Hampshire joined an 11-state lawsuit opposing the vaccine requirement in November, but an appeals court lifted a stay in December on enforcement of the Biden administration rule. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on Jan 7.


Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.



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