Council walks back indoor mask mandate

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 1:30pm

The New Shoreham Town Council voted unanimously on Thursday night to have Town Manager Maryanne Crawford draft a resolution requesting masks be worn indoors. It was a step back from enforced health and safety precautions the council had suggested earlier in the week. As reported in The Times and also in mainland media, on Monday the town council had proposed adopting an ordinance requiring everyone wear face masks indoors.

Bill McCombe, Block Island’s EMA director, who spoke at both the Monday and Thursday meetings, said he saw progress being made. “I think the council listened, which was great, the business owners spoke, which was great. There’s a lot of good things going on.” McCombe went on to say, “It’s nice to hear the plans the businesses have here. I think we’re on a good path and on the same page.”

Business owners were clearly upset, as the news spread across the internet of the prospect of businesses requiring patrons to wear masks indoors.

Several business owners expressed their frustration that the council had not spoken to them before proposing a mask mandate. Frank DiBiase, III, who spoke on behalf of the Spring House, thanked the council for not imposing a mandate, and said that Spring House had asked the staff as early as last week to start wearing masks. DiBiase lamented the negative news and feedback that resulted from the council’s Monday meeting, and chastised the councilors for their process, saying: “You don’t have facts, you don’t do research, you just come in here and start mandating. Frankly, personally, I’m not happy with it.”

DiBiase went on to explain that the Spring House is not requiring employees to get vaccinated, and hoped the council would respect that.

He also pointed out that in a room packed full of people, none of the business owners, nor the councilors, were wearing masks.

Kimberly Ward of Block Island Oyster Bar said: “We had a case, one of our employees who was at the Manisses tested positive; we had every single person at all three places, Kimberly’s, Oyster Bar, Hotel Manisses, we all got checked.” Ward said the roommates of the employee tested positive, but everyone else at the three establishments tested negative.

We’re trying to be as proactive as we can be,” Ward said, mentioning that she and several of her staff were planning to get tested regularly.

Mark Scortino spoke on the problem of communication, recommending the town get a Facebook page to communicate with the community. “A lot of the need for this meeting could have been nipped in the bud if there was an open line of communication,” Scortino said.

Councilor Martha Ball agreed, saying, “Lack of communication is a problem.”

The Chamber of Commerce may be the place, a funnel” for information to get to the council, Ball suggested.

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said she had been in near constant contact with Lars Trodson of the Camber of Commerce since Monday’s meeting.

He’s almost on speed dial,” she said. Crawford went on to say that her conversations with Trodson have “led to the change from ordinance to resolution.”

All New Shoreham Town Council meetings are advertised, with agendas attached, in The Block Island Times, on the Rhode Island Secretary of State website, on the town’s website, on various bulletin boards around town, and on the Block Island Bulletin Board email group operated by the Senior Advisory Committee. All members of the public are encouraged to attend and voice their concerns and opinions.

Despite this, there were only 4 attendees at the meeting on Monday when the mask ordinance first came up.