Portsmouth’s mandatory mask order went into effect at 8 am on Tuesday, July 14. The ordinance passed 4 to 1 despite Mayor Kevin E. Johnson’s procedural objections. Those who ignore it face fines of up to $1000. Although Portsmouth City Council heard comments submitted by the public during Monday’s night’s closed council meeting, the actual text of the ordinance was not available to the public ahead of time.
Johnson said that was the root of his objection to the new rule. “How are we being transparent? How are we giving our citizens an opportunity to speak? We can debate all of the yays and nays for masks. Right now, we’re debating procedure.”
The Portsmouth City Health Department is in charge of enforcing the new law and they aren’t happy about it. Belinda Leslie from the Portsmouth City Health Department told the council, “While the Health Department fully agrees with the mandatory wearing of masks, we do not have the manpower to enforce. It needs to be enforced by the police. We are happy to help but cannot do it alone.” Since this is a city ordinance and not a criminal one, police aren’t in charge of enforcement.
Let’s break down the new rules:
Who Has To Wear A Mask?
Everybody in Portsmouth age 6 and up with a few exceptions. You must also wear the mask correctly and make sure it covers your mouth and nose.
Where Are Masks Required?
- Masks are required at all businesses that are open to the public. The law makes it clear you have to wear the mask while in the business, in line to enter a business, and while coming and going from a business.
- Mask up when visiting any building or facility operated by the City of Portsmouth must mask up. As with businesses, you also need a mask while entering, exiting, or waiting in line. The same holds true for County Offices located within the city.
- Outdoors in public spaces where six feet of social distancing isn’t possible.
- Taking a bus or a cab? You’ll need a mask. Riding in a taxi or using a rideshare service? Put on your mask. Even if you hire a private car, masks are required. This does not apply to people traveling alone or riding with friends in their personal vehicles.
- Down on the Farm. Even if you work outside, you’ll need to mask up if social distancing is difficult. That includes folks working in construction and farming.
- While most healthcare facilities already have mask rules in place, this new ordinance mentions them specifically. Workers in long-term, skilled nursing, adult care, family care homes, mental health care homes, and facilities for those with intellectual disabilities must wear surgical masks.
What happens if you don’t wear a mask? That depends on if you’re a business owner or an individual. The language of the ordinance reads as if the city is placing the brunt of the enforcement burden on businesses.
If a business is failing to enforce the ordinance, they face:
- A warning for the first violation
- $500 fine for the second violation
- $1000 fine for each violation after that.
Individuals who don’t mask up face:
- A warning for the first violation
- $25 for each violation after that
Who Can Skip The Mask?
- Kids under six
- School employees under the direction of their district
- Exercisers as long as they stay six feet apart.
- People inside places of worship.
- Anyone actively eating or drinking in a business.
- If you’re talking to someone who is hearing-impaired
- When giving a speech for a broadcast or speaking to an audience.
- Anyone at home or driving their own car.
- Patients in need of medical treatment
- When you must identify yourself
- If masks make it hard to drive or post a safety issue at your job.
- In a private office as long as the social distance is maintained.
- First responders and anyone complying with orders from a first responder.