PROVINCETOWN — The select board has ordered the wearing of face masks starting Friday, May 1, in all Provincetown businesses and by everyone outdoors on Commercial Street between Bangs and Pleasant streets.
The order, which passed by a 3-2 vote on Monday, went against the advice of the town’s health director and of both the chair and the vice chair of the health board. As of the Independent’s deadline, the order did not include enforcement provisions, such as fines, though that may come later.
“There is no right or wrong answer, but I want to err on the side of the community being safe,” said member Bobby Anthony, who voted for the order.
The mask question was not on the board’s agenda, but came up in response to several public comments, letters, and a Facebook back-and-forth.
Herbie Hintze told the select board it’s not realistic to expect people to stay six feet from one another on Commercial Street. In his view, creating a regulation takes away the ambiguity that has spawned vigilante social media behavior, including postings of photographs of people without masks.
“It’s a way to stop the hate on social media,” Hintze said. “You can stop it right now by voting that everyone should be wearing masks.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in situations where it’s not possible to stay six feet away from others. Based on that recommendation, the Provincetown Board of Health has issued a similar advisory.
That advisory has done its job, said Dr. Susan Troyan, vice chair of the health board and a surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. She argued that further regulations were unnecessary.
Provincetown had only two current confirmed active cases of the coronavirus as of April 27. There has been one death and 25 recoveries since testing began in March.
“We are doing a good job; the community has pulled together,” Troyan said. “I disagree that mandatory rules on mask wearing will improve relationships in our community.”
Morgan Clark, the town’s health director, told the select board, “You should be making good policy and not responding to fear.”
But board member Louise Venden said, “Your arguments are not winning here. We’re clearly going to vote for this tonight. We need to make this statement. It’s about public education.”
Venden ultimately voted against the mask rule, however, saying that the process was flawed, since the item was not on the meeting agenda. David Abramson, the chair, also voted no. Anthony, Lise King, and John Golden made up the majority.
The next day, business owners had many questions.
Rob Anderson, co-owner of the Canteen restaurant, which has been serving take-out since March, said he agrees with the mask order, though he was concerned that the policy came out of a single discussion.
“It seems like they are making regulations on the fly,” Anderson said.
His questions included should his staff wear masks though they have no contact with the public and stay six feet from each other? And how should a restaurant employee deal with someone who isn’t wearing a mask? Should the customer to be kicked out? Should staff call the cops?
Similar mask orders have been implemented in Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York, as well as in several towns in Massachusetts, including Brookline and Northampton.
Enforcement in these areas is not always clear or doesn’t exist, and businesses themselves are in charge of enforcement. That’s also the case in Provincetown. Businesses must post signs and police their customers.
The select board did not set an end date for the rule.
“People want certainty and we cannot provide certainty,” board of health chair Stephen Katsurinis said on Tuesday. Katsurinis, a Provincetown guest house owner and former chief of staff at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, added that, in his view, “Cooperation and a joint sense of purpose has worked and is the most effective thing.”