CLAREMONT — With New Hampshire early into its plan to reopen businesses, city councilors will discuss whether to actively encourage city businesses to require their customers to wear protective face masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
At Wednesday’s Claremont City Council meeting, Councilor Abigail Kier asked the discussion be placed on the council’s next meeting agenda, scheduled for Wednesday, May 27.
Kier, a hospital administrator at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, told councilors that medical studies show that face masks, when worn by all parties, can reduce the transmission of the coronavirus into “the single digits.”
“I’m not sure people realize how big of an impact that [wearing a mask] has,” Kier said.
So far Sullivan County has only reported 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the second lowest in the state. Only Coos County, with two reported cases, has less.
But several councilors, as well as residents, warned that the situation could easily change.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kier said. “There is the prediction of a second surge in the August or September time frame… The safer we can be the better.”
“It’s wonderful that we’re not seeing as many cases in our area, but that could change overnight,” said Claremont resident Rebecca McKenzie.
State Rep. Gary Merchant (D-Ward 2), who suggested the idea of council involvement during citizen comments, said that a “no mask, no service” policy would dramatically improve the health and safety in local stores.
While studies show wearing face makes reduces COVID-19 transmission by more than 70%, “it only works if everyone’s wearing one,” Merchant said.
Councilor Jon Stone said he opposed a city ordinance, which he felt was unnecessary given the region’s lack of cases and that residents should not be penalized or compelled to wear masks.
Kier said she was thinking of a council proclamation, not an ordinance.
Kier told the Eagle Times Thursday that she would like the council to back a position, encouraging businesses to adopt mask-wearing policies for their customers, especially businesses like supermarkets and big retail stores with larger customer volumes. When visiting these stores, Kier said she sees less than half of the customers wearing masks.
Councilor Deborah Matteau said she does not support forcing people to wear masks but believes people should do so in consideration of the community.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe in or what your freedoms are,” Matteau said. “It’s showing that you care about the other members of the community.”
Matteau said that many people don’t understand the purpose of protective masks. The masks do not protect the wearer from germs. Rather, they keep those wearing them from transmitting germs to other people.
“You could be asymptomatic and think that you’re fine, when you’re spreading the virus without realizing it,” Matteau said. “But to cut down on transmission just by wearing a mask when going into a store, is that too much to ask?”
Mayor Charlene Lovett said that she planned to share the council’s concerns with Gov. Chris Sununu in her scheduled meeting with him, and hoped for them to explore ways to motivate people to take precautionary measures.
New Hampshire has not yet declared a statewide policy regarding mandatory mask-wearing for store customers, with the exception of hair salons, which were allowed to open this week.
Kier told the Eagle Times that the most effective mask against spreading the virus are the N-95 masks, which are extremely difficult to acquire right now. However, the cloth medical masks, which medical professionals commonly wear, are highly effective.
Even handmade cloth masks “are better than nothing at all,” Kier said.
Kier said that the key to a mask’s effectiveness is “how it feels around your face.” The mask should minimize spaces where germs can escape into the air.