Council reflects on mask mandate
On Tuesday, the Town Council met for the first time since instituting an island wide indoor mask mandate.
Lars Trodson of the Chamber of Commerce was in attendance, and the council thanked him and his staff for facilitating the distribution of masks to businesses on such short notice. Trodson told the council that Medical Center Director Dr. Tom Warcup and Police Chief Matt Moynihan delivered 1,200 masks to the Chamber of Commerce on Friday, and the doctor ordered 4,000 more from the mainland. Council Member Keith Stover went over to pick up those masks and bring them back to the island, delivering them to Trodson as the initial 1,200 were dwindling.
Trodson said his office had distributed about 3,000 masks to businesses and tourists. He also said his office and many of the businesses had new mask signage. He told the council: “The mandate took the burden off the individual shop owner. It’s very easy for people to say this is mandated by the town. It really takes any debate out of it at the store level.”
Stover mentioned that part of the reasoning behind the mask mandate was that it would reflect the “fundamental community value.”
First Warden Andre Boudreau also mentioned positive feedback he had received from shop owners. “We were looking for results,” Boudreau said. “Shop owners have told me that before the ordinance only five percent of people walked in with a mask. After the ordinance came into effect, 85 to 90 percent of their customers are wearing masks. That’s the result.”
Council Member Martha Ball commented that while initial reactions were negative, she hoped things would get better as time went on. “Nobody likes wearing a mask. We’re all trying,” she said.
Second Warden Sven Risom reminded everyone that there will be another council meeting on Monday, where the mask ordinance would be on the agenda once again for members of the public to voice their opinions.
Dr. Warcup reported that Covid numbers at the state level declined this week with cases per 100,000 people down from 205 to 181, with a positivity rate down from 3.3 to 2.5 percent. “Breakthrough cases remain low,” he said. “As a state we don’t have a large amount of the Delta variant.”
Warcup informed the council that EMA has concluded its rapid testing on Block Island, and all further testing at the Fire Barn would be PCR only. (PCR tests do not provide immediate results.) He said he was going to reach out to EMA to get the rapid testing for the island extended.
The doctor had two new positive cases to report from the Medical Center, but pointed out that with PCR tests, his office is not informed of the results by the Department of Health.
David Lewis asked for clarification of the qualitative aspects of different masks, with Dr. Warcup explaining that the N95 masks were most effective, followed by the KN95 masks, followed by the paper masks. “Cloth masks are really not effective,” he said, but “any mask is better than nothing.”
Council Member Mark Emmanuelle asked if vaccines were still “the best intervention on that menu.”
“No doubt,” Warcup said. “All the data would suggest that you only have a 0.05 percent breakthrough rate, and of that the only people who seem to be getting hospitalized have underlying medical conditions. So, for a regular healthy adult If they are vaccinated fully, and have a breakthrough, it is a miniscule amount of those individuals who are being hospitalized. Vaccination is the best tool.”
EMA Director Bill McCombe echoed the sentiment, saying: “For anybody out there that hasn’t been vaccinated, for whatever reason, I respect that. But I hope that it’s okay to change your mind. I really encourage you with all the data we have, to rethink it. I can respect the hesitancy, but I hope you seriously look back, and think about it. I encourage you to get the shot, based on what the doctor said. That’s how you can help our community.”