Majority of Haverhill Health Board Rejects Making Business Owners Enforce Mask Rules

Health Board Member Romie N. Mundy III during remote meeting. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill’s Board of Health says it doesn’t want to turn business owners into face mask enforcement officers.

Two out of the three Health Board members agreed Monday afternoon to reject—at least for now—adopting city zones where facial masks would always be required. Chairman Peter Carbone explained he does not want to create hostile situations.

“I just would not be in favor of a business owner having to confront people coming in and out of their business. You’re only asking for trouble here,” he said.

Health Board members met in an emergency remote session Monday afternoon to consider creating mandatory mask zones. Mayor James J. Fiorentini asked the board to consider adopting an ordinance similar to one approved in Newburyport. In that city, masks are required downtown and along the Clipper City Rail Trail. Part of Newburyport’s ordinance states, “All businesses shall be responsible for requiring and overseeing that patrons waiting or queued to enter their place of business wear a face covering while waiting.”

Fiorentini explained his rationale for the ordinance.

“People are now starting to have big get-togethers. That’s the most dangerous thing we can do is people getting together, partying, no masks, no social distancing. We absolutely have to keep that under wraps,” he said.

Carbone also expressed concern that any zones that Haverhill might adopt be clearly defined. Either way, he added, he doesn’t believe such rules should exist for Essex Street, for example, where there are few or no people on portions of the street.

Member Alexander Matolcsy agreed, but suggested businesses could help by making masks available to patrons.  The third board member, Romie N. Mundy III, said any mask rules should be reserved for high-traffic areas, but some business owners may want support for enforcing mask usage.

“I want to empower the businesses who want their patrons to wear masks for their own employees’ safety. They need to feel supported and empowered in that,” said Mundy.

Fiorentini told the Board the city doesn’t have enough health staff or police to enforce mask wearing—currently limited to grocery and certain retail stores. Inspectional Services Director Richard MacDonald said enforcement has been difficult.

“I understand what Peter’s saying. We don’t want confrontation. Unfortunately, the inspectors are the ones who are having the confrontations,” he explained.

The board asked City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. to take another look at the draft order and address members’ concerns.

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