The Dukes County Commission has issued a letter to all Island boards of selectmen and the Steamship Authority (SSA) board, requesting mandatory mask wearing in congested areas.
So far, both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs have voted to require masks in the downtown area, and Chilmark has voted to require masks in Menemsha.
Aquinnah selectmen decided to respond to the county’s letter by requesting that a plan be established regarding enforcement, and town administrator Jeff Madison said at a Wednesday selectmen’s meeting that he would like the county to consider just how heavily this task will weigh on town law enforcement and the local boards of health. Tisbury has yet to vote on the matter, and West Tisbury discussed the letter as The Times was going to print.
In the county letter to town boards of selectmen, Dukes County Commission chair Tristan Israel acknowledged the difficulties surrounding education and enforcement, but requested that noncompliance be met with a mandatory fine.
In the letter to the SSA, the county requests they enact a mandatory mask order on all vessels, in all terminal buildings, and in all loading and unloading areas in the port towns, regardless of social distancing.
“Along with the enhanced action of educating the public being pursued by the board of health, and while recognizing the very real challenges enforcement creates, we support serious measures of enforcement through the issuances of fines to those who refuse to comply,” the letter reads. “We would like to see law enforcement team up with the boards of health and health agents to support their efforts in enforcing these measures as well. The health of our community is greatly at stake in these unprecedented times of this pandemic.”
The SSA issued a stronger policy late last week, saying they would call in police to enforce mask wearing if necessary.
Aquinnah health assistant Karen Colombo said she is interested in having the county play a greater role in mask wearing, instead of having those tasks fall on the back of the local board of health. Colombo said masks are already being required at the Aquinnah shops.
Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belian said the idea behind the letter is solid, but enforcement is an issue. He said the town has to enact a bylaw, but the town has no language drafted for any provisions regarding mask wearing. He also said that if the town issues a bylaw, someone might challenge it down the road. “If it goes to court, it might be dismissed,” Belain said.
He also said that if an officer were to issue a bylaw ticket, there is no legal requirement for the person being issued the ticket to provide their real name. “So they could tell you they’re Mickey Mouse, and now you’re writing a bylaw ticket to Mickey Mouse,” Belain said.
Belain said he has seen a high degree of compliance in the shop area, which, apart from the beaches in Aquinnah, is one of the only places that gets congested.
“From what I have seen, 99 percent of people are wearing masks. Personally, I think it is looking good right now on that front,” Belain said.
Madison had more direct words for the county, saying, “I don’t think they have a clue about what the [expletive] they are asking for. Get your act in order and figure out how to appropriately address this question.”
Madison said he would write a letter to the county expressing the quandary surrounding enforcement, and requesting a more in-depth look at the problem.
“I would really like to see a mandatory wearing of masks,” board of selectmen chair Jim Newman said. “But if you can’t do anything to enforce it, you are going to look pretty stupid.”