Block Island passes resolution calling for indoor mask wearing

THE NEW SHOREHAM TOWN COUNCIL passed a resolution on Monday night that requests that people wear face masks when inside public places on Block Island. / COURTESY LARS TRODSON

NEW SHOREHAM Block Island officials have opted for instituting a resolution calling for the voluntary wearing of masks in indoor public places on the island to address a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The New Shoreham Town Council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution on Monday night that requests that people wear face masks indoors. During the meeting, the council urged companies operating ferries, planes and marinas to make their passengers aware of the request.

The resolution is effective immediately, however, it does not apply to those whose health would be damaged, or those who are developmentally unable to comply, including young children who may not be able to effectively wear a mask.

Councilor Mark Emmanuelle thanked the island’s businesses for providing valuable information that led to passage of the resolution. He had expressed caution about enacting a policy ordinance that would have mandated the use of masks indoors.

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“I decided with the guidance of our outstanding medical director Dr. Thomas Warcup and input from our island business owners that a strong voluntary approach to mask wearing was appropriate at this time,” said Emmanuelle. “This virus is evolving and a moving target, so we will have to re-evaluate on a regular basis.”

Dr. Warcup informed the council at its July 26 meeting that the infection rate was increasing, with 11 cases reported in two weeks. Warcup reported three more a few days later, making the total 14 cases in three weeks. No new cases have been reported in the last 72 hours.

There were 45 total known cases on Block Island last summer.

About 30 business owners attended a special town council meeting on July 29, when the council was expected to deliberate enacting an indoor mask mandate to address the increase.

Prior to the meeting, Lars Trodson, executive director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, conveyed to the council through Town Manager Maryanne Crawford that the business community was expressing an anti-mask-mandate sentiment. That sentiment seemed to sway the council’s actions away from a mandate and toward passage of a resolution instead.

Second Warden Sven Risom lauded the proactive stance that businesses took on the issue, and the value of their input at the July 29 meeting.

“After significant input from the businesses and the community at large, the resolution was passed,” he said. “The town, citizens and businesses all look forward to working together to keep Block Island as safe and healthy as possible. The council will continue to monitor the situation.”

Bill McCombe, the island’s co-director of emergency management, said, “I think this was a wise choice by the town council at this time. I would hope that the public puts their energy into why and when mask wearing makes sense as opposed to fighting an ordinance. As much as we all want this to be over we need to remain vigilant in our every day precautions to lower our probability of spreading this virus.”

Trodson said, “The chamber is grateful to the town council for their reasoned and helpful approach to a challenging issue and we look forward to continuing a safe and happy summer season on Block Island.”

John Cullen, an island business owner, said that he will not request the wearing of masks in his two stores on Water Street.

“I respect that our town council is making an effort to protect the citizens and visitors of Block Island, but at the same time I think this is another example of contradicting – because the governor of Rhode Island says the data doesn’t support such actions right now – and confusing messaging,” Cullen said. “We fully support anyone’s right to wear a mask if they choose to, but we are not going to ask our customers to put one on or make it a requirement to enter our business.”

Update: Adds paragraphs 14 and 15 to include comment from John Cullen.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.

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