Although masks are not mandated in the state of New Hampshire, the town of Durham is considering an emergency mask ordinance amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The University of New Hampshire will begin to welcome back thousands of students in less than a month.
To protect residents, Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig is calling for the town council to pass an emergency mask ordinance that would require face coverings in public when social distancing isn't possible.
"What we've been observing over the summer is that students who reside in Durham have not been following social distancing practices," Selig said Wednesday. "They have been congregating and they're not wearing masks."
Selig said the signs all around town to wear a mask aren't working and he's been inundated with complaints from Durham residents asking the town to do something.
"This is not a red issue, this is not a blue issue, it's not republican or democrat. It's just a safety issue and we're looking out for our citizens," Selig said.
NBC10 Boston on Wednesday observed a mixture of students in downtown Durham — some wearing masks and some not.
"I try to, but I can't make my friends do it," UNH junior Skyler Noke said.
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Many students admit when they're not running errands, wearing a mask is a lot less common.
"It's like a 50/50 type thing," UNH senior Danielle Picot said.
"There's kind of just a blatant disregard from the younger population for it," Noke added.
Selig said the proposed ordinance is a matter of saving local businesses because if residents don't feel safe, they won't head out to eat or spend any money in downtown Durham.
"For me in the restaurant industry it's vital," said Doug Clark who owns two restaurants downtown. "We would never be able to withstand another shutdown, so we are all in favor of a mask ordinance."
Under the proposal, first-time offenders would get a $150 fine. It would go up to $300 after that.
"That's one way to get it done," UNH junior B McNamara said of the proposal.
"Definitely having a fine attached — people will start listening more," senior Jenny Quigley added. "I think money is tight especially with college debt right now."
If the ordinance passes, it could go into effect as early as Aug. 10 — just a couple days before UNH students start moving into their dorms.
Meanwhile, city council members in Portsmouth have voted unanimously to begin drafting a mask ordinance. The council was expected to meet Wednesday evening to go over the next steps.