The mask mandate for the City of Keene will remain in place until further notice.
Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell pleaded before the city council, calling for the mask mandate to remain in place on April 21. This development came days after NH Gov. Chris Sununu lifted the state mask mandate following its expiration on April 16. Although the state mandate was not renewed, cities, towns and private businesses could still require face coverings.
President Treadwell spoke before the city council asking for the mandate to be extended at least through the first week of June, after the college has held their commencement ceremony and the semester is finished.
“We want our students to have a common experience that we don’t interrupt here in the last three weeks of the semester,” Treadwell told The Equinox. “And that our students who work downtown are protected, because should they be exposed [to COVID-19,] they then have to quarantine or go into isolation which could then impact commencement.”
Treadwell said the council ruled not to set a date to the end of the mask mandate. She added that the mandate could extend into July or even August depending on case rates in the region.
During the meeting, the council heard from Keene residents Johanna Laurie, John-Michael Dumais and Rebecca Montrone who called into question the efficacy of face coverings. Dumais argued that face coverings do not actually prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
“Many of us know that the virus is a small particle that can go through cloth,” Dumais said.
Laurie, 79, said she was concerned with the effects on elderly and children regarding requiring face coverings.
“What worries me a whole lot is that elderly people have difficulty breathing,” Laurie said. “We need all the air we can get. So when I walk down the street and see people my age and older struggling to breathe behind a mask, I feel very sorry for them.”
Keene Department of Health Director John Rogers spoke at the meeting, stating that masks help prevent infectious individuals from spreading respiratory droplets and face masks can act as a barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from entering the wearer’s nose and mouth.
“Certainly masks are not 100% preventive at transmitting or contracting this virus, but along with the masks, vaccines, social distancing and hand washing are some of the most effective ways for ust to try to end this pandemic,” Rogers said.
“We need to continue to use the best practices as possible in hopes to end this pandemic and wearing masks is a large part of that effort. And, as the city’s health official, I would recommend that this current mask ordinance stay in place until June 1.”
Keene State COVID Project Team Leader Dr. Wayne Hartz said that with the UK variant of the virus having been found in the Keene wastewater, it is now present in the community.
“If ever there was a time to wear a mask, it is now,” Hartz said.
Hartz added that he would like to see the mask mandate in place once 80-85% of the community are fully vaccinated, having reached herd immunity.
Treadwell added she is pleased with the result from city council and she thinks a continued mask ordinance will keep Keene State College’s and the City of Keene’s cases low.
“This matters, it helps,” Treadwell said. “When we wear masks we are seeing that we don’t get any secondary transfer, no one is catching it if they are wearing masks even when they are close to people who are positive. So I am really glad and I don’t want our students to have to grapple with some new thing three weeks before the end of the semester.”
Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said during the meeting that it can take around a month to change an ordinance. Dragon said June 1 might be an optimistic date, but the city needs more information on how many in the community are vaccinated before lifting the mask ordinance.
“If vaccinating the public is the way to getting back to some type of normal life again then that, in fact, should be a big part of the reason to lift the mask mandate and so the best way to do that is to look at the numbers of our region and see how many people have been vaccinated,” Dragon said.
Treadwell said she is concerned about opposing views to mask wearing becoming vocal to the students and faculty she serves at the college.
“We know this makes a public health difference but some people are viewing it as a judgement of liberties, a judgment of what we think of other people or that we’re liberal because we are wearing masks,” Treadwell said. “It’s a political football. It’s just science and so I’m saddened that we’re splitting into multiple factions but I’m hoping we can get through this and come out on the other side.”
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