CLAREMONT — As New Hampshire continues its phased reopening of the state amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, debates are building in communities throughout the state and across the country over the necessity of protective face masks.
Earlier this month, farm and garden retailer Tractor Supply issued a policy for all its brick-and-mortar locations, including in Claremont and Walpole, that requires customers to wear a protective mask when conducting business inside its stores.
“For the health and safety of both customers and team members and due to current state or local mandates, all customers must wear a face mask/covering,” reads a sign posted at the front entrance of the Tractor Supply in Claremont.
Despite this policy, customers can’t be forced to comply, said store employees in Claremont and Walpole in an interview with the Eagle Times.
“Some do it and some don’t,” said a manager of the Tractor Supply in Walpole, who declined to include her name in the interview.
The manager in Walpole said her store still enforces the policy, but only about half of the customers will wear a mask. Their store provides free medical cloth masks to customers and an employee is stationed by the door to ask customers to wear one. But customers who decline are still allowed to shop.
The Eagle Times visited the Tractor Supply in Claremont on Saturday, May 16, and the following week of Saturday, May 23. During our time at the store we indicated that there were at least 10 customers in the building on each visit and that a total of two patrons were wearing masks.
One Claremont employee said Friday that their store follows a similar protocol as Walpole. The store keeps a supply of free masks inside near the store entrance and employees are expected to ask customers to wear one. But the employees have no way to enforce compliance.
“It’s up to them whether they are going to get sick or not,” he said.
Many customers have expressed displeasure about the mask policy, the employee said. Some say that the masks restrict breathing. Others question the effectiveness of the masks. Some simply say they don’t want to.
The Claremont City Council recently announced its hope to embolden businesses like Tractor Supply through an official proclamation in support of community-wide mask-wearing when in public spaces like stores.
By a vote of 8-1 on Wednesday, the city council approved the creation of a non-binding resolution to encourage residents and local businesses to promote the wearing of masks as recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
In a presentation to the council, Councilor Abigail Kier addressed many public misconceptions about the purpose of face masks.
“Face masks are not designed to protect the wearer, but keep the wearer from potentially spreading infection to other people,” Kier said. “A majority of positive COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, meaning people who carry the novel coronavirus but who don’t exhibit the symptoms. Additionally, it often takes several days for a person with the virus to display symptoms.”
The masks do not capture the virus itself but the droplets of moisture which hold the virus.
The droplets can spread by sneezing, coughing or even talking. A person emits thousands of oral fluid droplets per second through normal talking, Kier said.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, surgical cloth masks do filter very small particles. But if worn properly, snugly fitted around one’s nose and mouth to seal cracks between the face and cloth, the mask will help block large droplets, splashes or sprays or obstruct their travel.
For that reason, the CDC still recommends a social distancing proximity of 6 feet from other people, even when wearing a mask.
The Claremont employee, while an advocate for wearing masks, doesn’t think the city council’s proclamation will have much effect on public opinion.
“People’s minds are made up already about masks,” he said. “Unless something [consequential] happens, people are probably not going to change.”
The employee says he will continue to ask that people wear masks and learn more about them.