In NH: Portsmouth, Durham to Consider Ending Mask Mandates
Mask mandates appear to be running their course in New Hampshire.
Councilors in Portsmouth and Durham will consider proposals next week to scale back or fully rescind mask mandates in effect in those communities.
The proposals come amid a steady decline in Covid-19 cases in the area and the state as more people become vaccinated and get fresh guidance from the federal government.
The proposal under consideration in Portsmouth would eliminate the indoor and outdoor mask requirement that has been in place for much of the last year. Businesses would have the option to continue requiring mask use within their premises.
“It is time we comply with the CDC guidelines,” Mayor Rick Becksted said in an interview, noting that Portsmouth is among the last New Hampshire communities requiring facial coverings in all settings. “There are recommendations out there and people should have the choice.”
It’s not yet clear how the council will fall on the mask issue. Becksted expects strong support for removing the mandate in its entirety but expects a healthy debate on a compromise proposal to keep the indoor rule in effect through June.
The city’s health officer and several reopening task forces established by the mayor are supporting a compromise that would keep the mandate in place through June for indoor spaces only.
The Portsmouth City Council held an initial debate Tuesday night on the new proposed mask ordinance.
Councilor Cliff Lazenby is open to a compromise of that kind. He said the extra three weeks would give more residents a chance to become fully vaccinated, particularly 12- to 15-year-olds who were cleared to receive the Pfizer vaccine more recently.
The teens who are older within that age group, Lazenby said, will likely be working downtown this summer.
“I can see why it makes sense to consider that,” Lazenby said in an interview. “We’d have fewer people exposed and more people vaccinated by the end of June."
Leasers at the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth said its members have differing viewpoints on mask mandates.
Some business owners are tired of the battle at the door and the abuse that their staff members are enduring to enforce the city ordinance, while other owners are concerned about the health of their unvaccinated staff, said Ben VanCamp, the chamber’s chief collaborator and president.
“Both of these positions carry much merit,” VanCamp said in an email. “The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on the Arts & Non-profits and the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to ReOpen Portsmouth 2021 have urged the council to maintain the indoor mask mandate to the end of June while eliminating the outdoor mask mandate now. The Chamber Collaborative supports that position as it allows for a comfortable environment for our community visitors and assists business owners in their effort to protect their staff.”
What's happening in Durham, where many UNH students have gone home for the summer, while many who live off-campus are still in town?
Durham, meanwhile, will debate ending the emergency ordinance that includes mask usage in municipal buildings. Town councilors moved last month to eliminate the outdoor mask requirement and suggest, rather than require, masks when inside.
The current mask rule in Durham will remain in effect through June 30 without council action.
“UNH is largely adjourned for the summer, case counts are now low in Durham and falling across the Seacoast region, and the CDC has indicated that those who have been fully vaccinated plus 14 days have a strong immunity from the virus,” Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said.
Manchester and Nashua, the state’s largest cities, recently lifted mask requirements.
Concord’s mask rule expired June 1.
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