Residents and visitors to downtown Edgartown will be required to wear a mask or face covering between the hours of 8 am and 1 am, according to a new regulation approved by the board of health. The new regulation is an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The mask order, which went into effect Friday morning, was approved during a joint meeting on Thursday between the board of health and the board of selectmen. Selectmen did not vote on the regulation.
The areas where face coverings are required are detailed in the regulations.
The regulations apply to all public indoor and outdoor spaces. Children 2 and under are exempted from the regulations, as are those who have a health condition or a disability.
Failure to follow the regulations could result in a fine of $50 for a first offense, up to $300 for a fourth, and subsequent, offenses. An order by Gov. Charlie Baker is already in effect, but it only requires mask wearing if social distancing can’t occur. The Edgartown regulation makes no mention of social distancing.
The town will use “ambassadors” to educate the public on the benefits of mask wearing.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole told those gathered at a joint Zoom meeting of the board of health and board of selectmen that the mask order stems from a trio of citizens’ petitions.
“We are going to be in need of some delegates or some ambassadors if we chose to go this route,” Poole said. “I would like to call on the [Edgartown] Board of Trade to provide their support in identifying good candidates … and helping with scheduling these folks.”
Town administrator James Hagerty said Nantucket’s order was used as a template: “I think there was a misconception — we thought that the Nantucket order was getting enforced by the police department.” Hagerty said it was in fact ambassadors who did the work.
“The police are part of a holistic solution,” he said, “but I think solely police enforcement isn’t necessarily the right answer. I think this kind of needs to be a combined effort with police educating, as well as the board of health enforcing, as well as the businesses enforcing. I think we’re going to set ourselves up for failure if we say a 17-year-old traffic cop making $16 an hour is kind of our tip of the spear on this — getting involved in maybe highly polarizing discussions [that] I don’t know if he or she is necessarily equipped for.”
On Main Street in Edgartown, it’s difficult to spot an unmasked face, and stores and restaurants appear to have refined their protocols for social distancing, particularly when it comes to people waiting in line outside the store.
Seasonal visitor Zoe Olsen told The Times she is visiting the Island for a week from her home in Washington, D.C, and noted how responsible most people in the downtown area are with face coverings.
“My experience so far is that everyone has a mask,” Olsen said. “My only exception is on the beach during the weekend. South Beach was pretty packed when we went.”
Olsen said she has been into some boutique shops in town, and praised the stores’ methods of sanitation and cleaning.
Lisa Reibstein, visiting from Newton, said she has noticed a greater police presence in highly congested areas, and said law enforcement is doing a “good job” with making sure people are following the public health guidelines.
Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said he conferred with Nantucket Police Chief William Pittman. “His agency has purposefully stayed out of the enforcement component,” he said. “The first reason being it’s an antagonistic subject matter …” McNamee elaborated by saying uniformed police might only “exacerbate” tensions over masks.
The second reason, McNamee said, was that “Nantucket Police, like Edgartown Police, went to great lengths to try to protect their staff from infection. We could see a resurgence of COVID in the fall. Injecting the officers right up to unprotected people could further expose us. But like Nantucket, all of the chiefs in Massachusetts did receive a memo put out from general counsel from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police. And their advice was that police are not primary enforcers of bylaws for mask enforcement.”
In the end, police weren’t factored heavily into the enforcement equation for the mask zone.