Town revokes mask mandate
The Town Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to revoke the town’s mask mandate. Emergency Ordinance III of the Town of New Shoreham Adopted June 24, 2020 called for masks to be worn in public places both indoors and outdoors. With the new guidelines issued by the CDC and the state of Rhode Island in recent days, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford told the councilors she didn’t believe they could keep the ordinance in effect any longer.
The CDC has advised that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks except as required by federal, state, local,
tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Masks are still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation by federal mandate, including the Block Island Ferry and Block Island Airport, both in the terminal and on the aircraft. Rhode Island advises that masks are only needed in businesses that require it, schools and child care settings, healthcare settings like hospitals, doctors’ offices, home healthcare, and nursing homes, public transportation, locations serving the homeless, prisons and correctional facilities.
Given these changes to federal and state guidelines, the Town Council revoked its mask ordinance, leaving in place the provisions of Emergency Ordinance II which require all persons on Block Island to comply with federal and state guidelines, with
punishments for violations and instructions for enforcement. As such, Block Island will follow the lead of the state and federal governments when it comes to masks.
The council discussed the impact on businesses and whether there would be official guidance from the town, with Crawford stating that under state law businesses can require masks in their establishment if they choose. Crawford said the guidance she had received from the Department of Business Regulation was to treat masks as an individual business practice similar to “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” whereby business owners can make their own decisions about masks.
Second Warden Sven Risom expanded on this explanation, saying that any establishment that requires masks can treat noncompliance from customers the same as any other noncompliance with their business practices. They can refuse service, ask
the person to leave, and if necessary, call the police. At that point, he said, it is not an issue about masks, but about private business policies and practices.
Council Member Martha Ball pointedly asked if masks will still be required on the ferry. Medical Center Director Dr. Tom Warcup said they were still being required as of Tuesday.
First Warden Andre Boudreau brought up requiring masks at the playground, as some parents have expressed concern to him about the fact that young children are not eligible for the vaccine, yet are exposed to people on the playground who are not wearing masks.
Ball asked if the town could have the same latitude as a private business and require masks on their property, such as the playground. Councilor Mark Emmanuelle mentioned the Town Beach Pavilion and the Transfer Station as other places the town might want to require masks.
Dr. Warcup expressed his opinion that the risks are extremely low outdoors, particularly for children on the playground. He said that between the UV radiation killing the germs, the fresh air, and the breeze, outdoor activities present an extremely low risk for contracting Covid-19.
Council Member Keith Stover said he liked the idea of the town requiring masks inside their own buildings, specifically Town Hall, as a way of modeling the indoor behavior for businesses. Risom said he also liked the idea of the town providing a model for businesses to follow. Boudreau said it could be more of a policy than an ordinance, something put together by the town manager.
Crawford clarified that the councilors wanted the employees and guests at town facilities to wear masks, and also stated that the town beach would have to follow town policy so that there was consistency across departments. Crawford said she would draft a policy that the council could review at their next meeting. Risom asked if it would be possible for Crawford to implement the policy so as not to have a two week period with no mask policy at Town Hall. Crawford stated that would be preferable, and the council agreed that she could form and implement a policy that would be reviewed at the next meeting.
Dr. Warcup cautioned that while the trend is for businesses to have the ability to enforce mask wearing as they see fit, it just makes sense for public venues to still require them. He said we don’t want to be “at the forefront of the first blossom of Covid,” and while 58 percent of Rhode Islanders have been fully vaccinated, we are second in the nation in per capita cases and fourth in the nation in per capita deaths. Dr. Warcup also reiterated that outdoors conveys a certain amount of protection, and it is really indoors where we need the most caution. He urges all of us to remember that Covid is still very real, vaccines are not 100
percent effective, and “this is an area where we want to respect each other as much as we can.”