A city councilor has announced his intention to propose an ordinance that would require people to wear face masks while in Keene businesses.
Councilor-at-Large Randy Filiault posted on Facebook Sunday afternoon that he intends to draft an ordinance and submit it to the council, mayor, city manager and city attorney on Tuesday. The ordinance will be influenced by a similar measure passed recently in Nashua, Filiault said.
"Clearly, from what you see with all the experts, COVID-19 isn't going anywhere," Filiault told The Sentinel on Sunday. "As a matter of fact, from what we've seen in a lot of states and communities, is that the communities that aren't adhering to social distancing and opening things up too soon are seeing a resurgence in positive cases."
He said he'd been thinking about moving forward with a draft ordinance some time ago, but was unsure that a municipality would be legally able to enact such an ordinance, believing it was something that had to be done at the state level. But when he saw the success of Nashua's law, he decided to take action.
Filiault said the recommendation from Gov. Chris Sununu urging residents to wear masks does not go far enough. On average, he said he sees about half of the population wearing masks in public whenever he goes out, and he feels it's time to take the recommendation "to the next step."
In an effort to put some teeth behind the ordinance, Nashua's law includes the possibility of fining those who refuse to comply. Filiault said his draft ordinance would include a similar penalty.
"The intent isn't to go out and just be fining people left and right and having to enforce it," he said. "You don't want to have to do something like that. But I think it's clear that the governor's directive isn't working."
The proposal has support from at least two other councilors, Terry Clark and Robert Williams.
Clark told The Sentinel on Monday that the idea should have come up weeks ago, noting that the community is well into the reopening process and that going through the council procedure will likely delay the law going into effect if it passes. He said he plans to co-sponsor the ordinance and that it's important to find a balance between public health and the needs of local businesses.
Williams offered a similar sentiment, expressing particular concern for the employees of businesses with customers constantly coming and going. He said that requiring the use of face masks could be the difference of whether the community experiences a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
"Wearing masks is something that I think we must do if we are to avoid a second wave of the disease in the coming months," Williams told The Sentinel in an email on Sunday. "If a second wave were to occur, it could send us into another lockdown and cause another round of devastation to the economy. Nobody wants to see that happen."
The first step, Filiault said, is to submit the draft ordinance for legal review. Then he said it will need to be reviewed by the full council, likely after being discussed at the committee level. He said he's exploring options to expedite the process as a response to a public health emergency.