Town Council mandates mask wearing indoors – starting Sept. 3
The New Shoreham Town Council passed an emergency ordinance on Wednesday night mandating masks be worn indoors, effective at noon on September 3.
“There has been almost a threefold increase (in positive Covid cases) in the past month,” Medical Center Director Dr. Tom Warcup said, explaining to the council that Rhode Island reported 205 cases per 100,000 on Wednesday, up from 85 cases per 100,000 at the beginning of August. Rhode Island remains in the “high” transmission category.
“Vaccines are working,” Warcup said, pointing to the low number of breakthrough cases of Covid, with only 0.51 percent of positive cases in Rhode Island occurring in fully vaccinated people.
Warcup reported 11 positive cases in the past ten days on Block Island, but noted these were only the cases he knew about. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are sent off to the Rhode Island Department of Health from the Fire Barn are not included in the data set. DOH contacts the patients directly and does not contact the Medical Center to share results. PCR tests are the nose swab tests.
Councilor Martha Ball asked, “Why can’t we get the PCR information?”
“Privacy,” Warcup answered. “I’m sure we can call and request it, I’m sure they have that data, but they are under no obligation to communicate with the medical center. It’s a bureaucracy.”
“Is it safe to say we may have significantly more cases than what we’ve thought all along?” Councilor Keith Stover asked.
“Yes,” Warcup answered. “Eleven cases is just what we know about.”
As the council was informed on July 29, several businesses on the island are also conducting their own Covid testing through DOH; these results are also not in the Medical Center data set.
“From a medical standpoint, masks work,” Warcup told the council. “They are one of the strongest tools in your toolbox when it comes to avoiding spread.”
Stover initially floated the idea of a mask mandate, possibly “short-term.”
First Warden Andre Boudreau, stating that he was “always guided by the doctor’s professional opinion,” agreed that a mask ordinance was necessary. “He’s been telling us that masks work,” Boudreau said, adding, “I’m fearful we aren’t taking medical advice.”
Boudreau said that based on medical advice, and the need to protect the vulnerable community as a fundamental role of the town council, he would be in favor of an indoor mask mandate.
EMA Director Bill McCombe advocated for delaying the mandate until an emergency meeting could be called so that “all stakeholders” could be there.
Second Warden Sven Risom agreed, saying: “From a process point of view, it would be great to be very inclusive and get the community to be a part of this.”
Stover and Boudreau pointed out that the emergency ordinance was listed on the meeting agenda.
Representing the business community, Lars Trodson from the Chamber of Commerce and Jess Willi from the Tourism Council were both in attendance. Trodson told the council that the Chamber could help facilitate mask distribution, as had been done in the past. He also advocated for delaying implementation to allow businesses to procure enough masks for their employees. Willi spoke to the council from her other role as Chair of the School
Committee and reminded everyone that her committee had passed a similar indoor mask mandate for the school last week.
“It’s nerve-wracking. We want our kids to go back to school and have full, in-person learning, so anything we can do to promote that. School is the most important thing. I need to continue working so I need my kids to go to school,” Willi said.
The council passed the ordinance by a vote of 3 to 2, with Risom saying he was voting against the measure because of procedural concerns. Councilor Mark Emmanuelle voted against the measure as well, citing timing of the mandate at “the eleventh hour of the season.”
Boudreau countered, “It’s the end of the season, but the virus doesn’t have seasons.”