Masks making a comeback
The New Shoreham Town Council met after this story had gone to press on Thursday, July 29 at 7 p.m. The council voted 5-0 not to impose a mask mandate, but instead to draft a resolution requesting that individuals wear masks indoors. The council will vote on this new resolution on Monday, August 2.
Time to dust off the face mask? The Town of New Shoreham may rejoin the ranks of municipalities with indoor mask mandates, as a way to combat the sharp rise in Covid cases on Block Island.
According to Dr. Tom Warcup, Director of the Block Island Medical Center, there has been an escalation of cases in Rhode Island including a tripling of positive Delta-variant patients. This has prompted the Rhode Island Department of Health to classify the state in the Substantial Transmission Category, and on Monday he suggested that the Town Council “consider a mask ordinance again.”
“Masks work. There’s no doubt about it,” Warcup said.
The doctor reported seven new cases on Block Island in the past week, bringing the number to 11 in the past 14 days. Eleven cases does not sound like very many, but Warcup put it into perspective for everyone: “We had 45 total known cases last summer, and we’ve reached a quarter of that in a 14-day period.”
“The real problem is that we’re still in a global pandemic that everyone wants to ignore,” Councilor Martha Ball pointed out.
“We’re going to be living with this for a couple of years,” Warcup answered.
Councilor Keith Stover said he hated the idea of a new mask mandate. “I’m really concerned that at the next meeting in August we’ll be wishing we had done something. Provincetown has 500 cases. We aren’t that far off because of the exponential rate,” Stover said.
According to the Provincetown website, the seaside community in Massachusetts had 430 confirmed positive cases as of Friday July 23. Provincetown
residents accounted for 153 of the cases. Cases among Massachusetts residents affected by the Provincetown cluster, including the 153 Provincetown residents: “are found to be predominantly symptomatic (71 percent) with 69 percent of affected individuals reported to be fully vaccinated. Apart from three hospitalizations (two in state and one out of state) associated with this cluster, symptoms are known to be mild and without complication.”
Fully vaccinated individuals can and do contract Covid-19 and can and do spread it in the community. And the numbers can add up fast. Provincetown reported 256 cases on Tuesday, July 20, a number that had nearly doubled by Friday, July 24. Provincetown adopted an indoor mask mandate on July 25.
New Shoreham is hoping not to let the number grow that big before acting.
“We are blessed to have a lot of outdoor venues, which does convey a lot of protection, and I’d be very specifically concerned for venues that are indoors, with not a lot of ventilation, which means that they can’t manage the social gathering mandates by the Department of Health,” Warcup said.
Stover spoke in favor of a mask mandate: “Nothing that has happened in the last year-plus could lead us to logically conclude that this is anything but something that is going to accelerate. I hate to say it, but I think we should amend our underlying emergency ordinance to mandate masks indoors.”
First Warden Andre Boudreau agreed, saying: “I reluctantly support a mask ordinance.” Boudreau went on to explain his position:
“Last year when we were here, we were reacting, and I think from what I’m hearing from the doctor, tonight, our minds were changed in this room within the past half hour. I don’t want to react. I want to throw a message out there that we’re serious, Block Island is not safer than any other place on
Boudreau went on to say they would be furthering the discussion on Thursday, consulting with the chief of police and getting his input. “As Martha says, this is a global pandemic, and we’re still in it, and I think we’re doing what we can.”
The council voted unanimously, with Second Warden Sven Risom not in attendance, to suspend provision 409A of the Town Charter, thereby allowing the council to enact ordinances without the requirements of public hearings and multi-week wait times for implementation. The council is allowed under the charter to suspend provision 409A in the event of an emergency.
The council directed the Town Manager, Maryanne Crawford and Town Solicitor Kathy Merola to prepare an ordinance for the Council to consider on Thursday, July 29.
As of press time, the council had not yet met to vote on the approval of the mask mandate. This is a developing story that will be updated on www.blockislandtimes.com.