What Will Portsmouth Do About Its Mask Requirement Ordinance?
Mask mandates on the Seacoast have been adjusted, ended early or allowed to expire with one notable exception, the city of Portsmouth, where city councilors are expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
The Exeter Select Board on Monday voted to lift its mask ordinance in favor of a "recommendation advisory" asking residents and visitors to wear a mask indoors in public spaces when close to others and to follow both CDC and state guidelines.
"We simply ask everyone to do their part in wearing masks or face coverings where appropriate. We do not condone shaming or calling out those that are or are not wearing face coverings," the advisory reads.
Durham took a similar step and turned their requirement into an advisory. The outdoor mandate and the indoor business/restaurant mask requirement were lifted. They will be required for another 61 days in Durham government buildings for two reasons, Town Administrator Todd Selig told Seacoast Current.
"At the town hall in Durham we have confined space, we don't necessarily have partitions in place to protect staff, Selig said. "We are also moving towards resuming in-person public meetings and we want to make sure that people who come into our meeting space which has limited capacity are all safe and feel comfortable joining."
Selig said 42 downtown business owners that responded to a survey from town officials showed they were evenly split on lifting the requirement. Many retailers and restaurants wanted to be able to fall back on the town ordinance to those who complained.
"We just felt that at this time it was appropriate to leave it to the local businesses to make that determination," Selig said.
Portsmouth public information officer Stephanie Seacord told Seacoast Current city officials have been asked by residents and business owners what the city council planned to do about its mask ordinance, which is scheduled to expire on June 30.
"There are people who have not wanted a mask mandate from day one. There are others who say, 'Wait a minute. If the CDC says it's okay how come we still have a mandate? If the governor removed his mandate why do we still have a mandate?' The opinions are all over the map," Seacord said.
A special Portsmouth city council meeting is scheduled for the sole purpose of having the first of three readings that are required to repeal an ordinance. The second reading will take place at the regularly scheduled meeting on June 7 during which the public can comment on the record.
The third reading is scheduled for June 21.
There are concerns for the workforce, especially young teens who have not had the chance to become fully vaccinated and will be working, according to Seacord.
"Businesses, performing arts places with indoor spaces, many residents, many restaurants, want to keep it because our health officer has observed that most of the people in Portsmouth under age of 17 have not yet been fully vaccinated, particularly the 12- to15-year-olds who won't be fully vaccinated until the beginning of July," Seacord said.
Data showing increases in the positivity rate and hospitalizations from the city, county and surrounding states drove the mandate to be put in place, according to Seacord.
With the metrics heading down, Mayor Rick Becksted decided it was time to take another look at the ordinance.
Members of a blue-ribbon committee created by Becksted to help non-profits and the performing arts community recover from pandemic restrictions surveyed their audiences for their thoughts about unmasking and found they are in favor of keeping the indoor mask and social distancing requirements in place and capacities down.
"We are very cautiously looking at what normal looks like. The audiences are saying 'masks and distancing,'" Seacord said.
The ordinances were approved and continued by near-unanimous votes of the city council.