Block Island to encourage indoor mask wearing in lieu of mandate

THE NEW SHOREHAM TOWN COUNCIL has opted for a resolution calling for voluntary indoor mask wearing after business owners quelled concerns over a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases. / PBN FILE PHOTO/K. CURTIS

NEW SHOREHAM – Block Island’s business community played a pivotal role in leading the New Shoreham Town Council to rethink potential enactment of an indoor mask mandate.

The island will not be enacting a mandate due to business owners expressing confidence in the safety measures that are in place at a special emergency meeting of the New Shoreham Town Council on Thursday night.   

Lars Trodson, executive director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, said that businesses had continued the practices they employed during the pandemic, including contact tracing, testing, quarantining, vaccinating and cleaning.

The town council held a special meeting on Thursday night to consider enactment of an emergency indoor mask mandate to address an uptick in cases on the island. But after hearing from business owners the council decided to back off the mandate, opting instead for the drafting of a resolution recommending voluntary mask wearing.

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Trodson sent an email to business owners urging them to be in attendance at Thursday’s meeting to express their thoughts about a mask mandate.

“We had 30 business owners in attendance from across all business spaces expressing their concern that the council might be overreaching, and they felt they were the best people to handle their businesses, which they have been doing for a long time,” he said. “So, the council definitely heard that message.”

The message had been resonating in the community prior to the meeting, said Trodson, as First Warden André Boudreau said at the meeting’s outset that the ordinance would be set aside in favor of the resolution. “The first order of business was that the council was not going down the ordinance route but down the resolution route instead,” he said.

Trodson said that he relayed the business community’s anti-mask-mandate sentiment to Town Manager Maryanne Crawford before the meeting. She conveyed that to the members of the town council, he said.

“So, the mask mandate was put aside, and the resolution, whatever that may be, will be voted on Monday night,” he said.

Trodson said that Block Island reported three more cases after Dr. Thomas Warcup warned the council members at a July 26 council meeting that the infection rate was increasing, with 11 cases reported in two weeks. That made the total 14 cases in three weeks, noted Trodson.

“I asked the doctor if it was hopeful that there were only three cases in a week, and he said it was hopeful, and remarkable,” said Trodson.

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

After listening to members of the business community Thursday night, the town council asked Crawford to draft a resolution calling for a voluntary wearing of masks indoors. The resolution will be voted on at Monday’s town council meeting.

Second Warden Sven Risom said it was a productive meeting Thursday night, which included some great input from the business community.

“Many businesses were there and talked about the programs that they have been doing regarding testing, quarantines and vaccinations,” he said. “We will see what happens on Monday. But businesses are taking a proactive stance, as is the town.”

Bill McCombe, the island’s co-director of emergency management, who was at the meeting, said that the island has been proactive in its approach to handling the virus. McCombe said that part of his job is monitoring the data, while being briefed by state health officials.

McCombe said that he works in collaboration with Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s office, the R.I. Department of Health and the Disaster Medical Assistance Team to ensure that safety protocols and measures are in place.

“It’s ongoing and fluid and it will continue to be,” he said, noting that testing and vaccinations are provided three times per week on the island by the Block Island Rescue Squad.

“The good thing is that businesses have implemented their own voluntary COVID plans to ensure the safety of everyone,” he said.

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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