masks on main street 081220

A group wearing masks walks by a group not wearing masks on Main Street.

The Falmouth Select Board on Monday night, August 10, approved a face mask advisory order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, but the board stopped short of making the practice mandatory.

Board members voted unanimously for creating advisory zones in highly congested parts of town during their virtual board meeting on Monday. The board considered the measure after receiving reports of people ignoring Governor Charles D. Baker Jr.’s mandatory mask order when social distancing is not possible. The order applies whether you are inside or outdoors.

Signs will be placed informing the public to wear masks at all times while in the zones.

“Perhaps people from out of town are not familiar with the Massachusetts mask order, and we could create signs to encourage compliance,” board member Douglas C. Brown said.

The two zone areas included in the advisory are the area of Water Street and Luscombe and Railroad avenues in Woods Hole, and Main Street from the village green to Shore Street in Falmouth. Board members said there are areas where social distancing is difficult because of pedestrian congestion.

Still to be determined at the board’s next meeting is whether to back the advisory with enforcement measures.

Board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said while enforcement would help drive compliance, she is hesitant to place more work on the police and health departments, which are saddled with answering calls and responding to reports of people and businesses that are ignoring COVID-19-related mandates.

“They are working seven days a week answering calls for enforcement, along with keeping up their regular duties. Any decision we make has to take into account who it will be impacting,” she said.

Falmouth Health Agent Scott McGann told the board that creating a mandatory zone would cause disagreements between enforcers and the public and add to the 50 or so calls he receives daily.

“I can’t handle another 50 [calls]. It would be akin to an unfunded mandate,” he said.

Police Chief Edward A. Dunne said manpower would be hard to find, since he was not able to hire extra seasonal officers to walk Main Street or Woods Hole because the pandemic shut down the police academy.

“We are at the point now of figuring out who is going to implement this,” Ms. English Braga said.

The board considered creating an ambassador program, where volunteers would patrol the area and ask those not wearing masks to do so. They would have free masks to give out. Concerns were aired regarding these volunteers being met with argumentative people who would push back against the advisory.

“I would be really cautious about stirring up some kind of rebellious response from somebody,” board member Samuel H. Patterson said. “There could be a case where a person with COVID could spread it to our volunteers, so I think it needs to be a very diplomatic interchange, backing away immediately if they get an aggressive response.”

Ms. English Braga said the board will need to discuss liability issues and scope of duties, suggesting the ambassadors take a more educational role versus an enforcement one.

Board member Douglas H. Jones said, “If the advisory gets at least five people to wear a mask, then it’s worth doing. I am optimistic when people are informed, they will comply. The argumentative ones were not going to comply anyway.”

The details will be discussed further at the board’s meeting on Monday, August 24.

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