Photo illustration by Benajil Rai

Hunter Oberst
News Editor

Keene residents are speaking out against the city mask ordinance.

The City of Keene recently voted to renew its mask mandate on April 21. Residents Johanna Laurie, Rebecca Montrone and John-Michael Dumais want Keene’s mask mandate to end and even spoke at Keene’s City Council meeting to give their case.

“I have never read one study showing anything effective about wearing masks,” Laurie said in an interview.

Laurie, 79, said she has trouble breathing while wearing a mask.

“I wear a mask when absolutely necessary,” Laurie said. “I don’t get enough oxygen.”

Laurie added that she has a heart condition in which she can faint if she cannot breathe properly.

“I have to protect myself,” Laurie said.

She added she is worried about the long-term health of those required to wear masks all day long due to occupational or academic mandates.

The University of Maryland Medical System states that cloth face coverings should not be worn by those who experience trouble breathing, including those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.) Those with trouble breathing should instead social distance or avoid going out unless necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19. The University of Michigan Health recommends masks even for those with COPD or asthma.

Dumais said there is limited research to back the efficacy of mask wearing.

“We don’t feel that there’s really any science behind masking,” Dumais said. Dumais cited the World Health Organization (WHO) as not recommending masking for healthy people in community settings or for infectious respiratory diseases.

WHO’s website states that “If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all!”

According to, between March 31 and May 22, 2020, estimates suggest more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 were averted because of mask mandates.

A study titled “To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic,” published in 2020 found that the “broad adoption of even relatively ineffective face masks may meaningfully reduce community transmission of COVID-19 and decrease peak hospitalizations and deaths.”

According to a CDC Science Brief, multi-layer cloth masks can block up to 50-70% of droplets and particles and limit the forward spread of those not captured. Multiple findings of studies found in this brief state that use of face coverings was associated with at least a 70% reduced risk of infection.

Montrone mentioned that tuberculosis deaths in 2019 numbered 1.4 million worldwide.

“It’s highly contagious yet we’ve never taken precautions with masking or social distancing,” Montrone said. “This is just something that is so uncharacteristic of how we deal with these things. This is something that is happening to people that can cause serious illness and death in some people but comparatively it’s not that big of a deal, and certainly not that big of a deal to change our whole way of life, and that would include masking.”

Since 2019, there have been 3.26 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19, 580 thousand of those in the U.S. alone.

Montrone added that although she does not favor the mask mandate, she believes private businesses should have the right to require masks in their stores, similar to how stores require a shirt and shoes.

“That’s fine, you’ll probably lose my business but I respect a businesses’ right to say’ this is what we’re comfortable with,’” Montrone said.

Montrone is the owner of Wondrous Roots in Keene. Montrone said she does not require masking in her business and neither her nor her employees have gotten sick. Montrone added that she is welcome to anyone wearing a mask if they want to in her business.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Montrone said. “If you get COVID, get COVID. Take care of yourself, it’s not going to be pleasant, but you’re going to get over it and you’re going to move on just like anything else like the flu. Take precautions and use your common sense. I don’t wash my hands anymore, I never hand sanitize. We’re clean people. I live in what I call the real world and in that world you’re not in a bubble afraid that you’re going to get something. I know how to handle myself and I know I’ll move on.”

Laurie said studies she finds that speak out against the efficacy of mask wearing tend to be hard to find or hidden.

“These studies are being buried and I think that’s a red flag,” Laurie said.

Laurie added that she thinks there needs to be more open discussion regarding the pandemic and masks.

“They say ‘the science is settled,’” Laurie said. “The science is never settled. It is important in science to have differences in opinion and be open to dialogue. If it’s all great then why don’t they want to be more open about it?”

Dumais, Laurie and Montrone all said they would not get the COVID-19 vaccine, nor would they recommend it to anyone. Dumais said that those concerned with the virus should make sure they get plenty of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc and Hydroxychloroquine.

“Take the damn face mask off, get plenty of sunshine,” Dumais said. “Get outside and meet like minded people and remind yourself why it’s good to be alive.”

“If we want to get back to normal, we have to find ways to come together and talk to each other,” Laurie said.

Keene State President Melinda Treadwell said she thinks it is too soon to stop wearing masks, especially after the UK variant of COVID-19 was found in Keene’s wastewater on April 5.

“Masks have made a difference in transmission,” Treadwell said. “I respect other people’s difference in opinion about it, but I also know that my responsibility is to protect the ones I’m responsible for, students, faculty and staff. My responsibility is to follow the science, and If I believe there is a scientific justification for anything we’re asked to do I’m going to do it. Masks are justified scientifically and I don’t believe they cause harm.”


Hunter Oberst can be contacted at:

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