OSSIPEE — Mellisa Seamans of Effingham, who took the Ossipee selectmen to task last week over their COVID-19 policies, was referred to by the board Monday as the "mask-shaming police."
Selectmen then announced they had reversed the vote they took last week to require masks be worn at town hall.
Seamans, who said she knows of 21 people associated with town hall or their family members who contracted it, had addressed the board at their Jan. 19 meeting, imploring them to follow COVID-19 protocols set down by the state. She said she and her husband, Chris Seamans, an Ossipee Department of Public Works employee, both came down with the virus.
Seamans herself works as the Carroll County government coordinator and is a former Carroll County Independent reporter.
During the Jan. 19 meeting, selectmen Martha Eldridge and Jonathan Smith both said they had also contracted the virus. Eldridge and the third Ossipee selectman, Sue Simpson, then voted that masks should be worn at town hall. Smith was opposed.
At Monday's meeting, Smith read aloud a statement from the the board signed by all three members.
"Last Tuesday, this board was attacked by the mask-shaming police," said Smith. "Mask shaming has become nothing more than a new tactic by those who believe in tyranny and oppression at the hand of the government."
The statement did not mention Seamans by name, who when told about the letter said she had no comment.
Smith went on to say that the governor's mask order doesn't require people to wear masks as long as they can keep a 6-foot physical distance and also contains exemptions. He went on to detail the town's response to the virus, which included limiting access to town hall; installing plastic barriers between the staff and public; temporarily suspending recycling; and acquiring protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
"Each employee is and should be responsible for their health and well-being," said Smith. "This is not kindergarten. We are professionals."
Smith continued that it's "undeniable that some got sick." But he added that employees are at the town hall only 40 hours out of a 168-hour week and that "no rational person" can say where they contracted the virus.
Selectmen said they care about residents and their employees. "It is foolish for one person to present to the public that we are careless, insensitive people," said Smith.
"In closing we would like to state that the virus is real, take precautions, use common sense but never surrender your liberty and principles for political expediency."
Smith also said that since Jan. 19 the selectmen had changed their minds about their previously voted mask mandate and reversed the decision at a "work session" held in an upstairs room before Monday's regular meeting.
He said under the new vote, the town will "mirror" Gov.r Chris Sununu's Emergency Order 74, which says people don't have to wear masks if they can physically distance 6 feet apart. Smith added that the CDC considers "close contact" to someone with COVID-19 to getting within 6 feet of someone for 15 cumulative minutes within a 24-hour period.
Regarding the emergency order, Associate New Hampshire Attorney General Anne Edwards told the Sun that under paragraph 4, "the municipalities may have 'their own ordinances related to the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings that contain stricter provision than those contained within this Order.'"
When told that, Smith replied that he understands that towns can be "more extreme" than the emergency order and said he knows Durham has a mask policy with escalating fines.
Ossipee resident Dallas Emery, who attended Monday's meeting, said he liked the selectmen's letter but said it didn't go far enough. He said he wants the "fear mongering" to stop and questioned whether mask mandates would stand up to the New Hampshire Constitution.
"This is kind of scary," said Smith, who said the governor's emergency power goes back to 9/11. "So technically, in this emergency power the governor has he can suspend the entire constitution. That's right, from our attorney general, which is a scary, scary thought. That needs to change."
Seamans had contrasted the rules of Ossipee Town Hall with Carroll County commissioners, who require masks in the administrative building in Ossipee. She added no one at the nursing home has tested positive in months because of their efforts.
However, due to an outbreak at the jail, which shares the Ossipee campus with the administration building, on Monday it was announced that the building has now been closed to the public.
Instead of their in-person meeting, the Carroll County legislative delegation met over Zoom on Monday morning.
Smith, who is also a delegation member by virtue of being a state representative in Carroll County, had asked why the building was closed.
Commissioner Terry McCarthy (R-Conway) told him the county was notified on Sunday it had been exposed to COVID-19 and there were cases at the jail.
"Since jail personnel had been in the administration building, we felt it was our responsibility for the county employees, for their health and the families they go home to, that the admin building would be shut down temporarily until we get the full scope of what's going on," said McCarthy.
To which Smith responded, "My prayers go out to those who are sick, and I wish them well and a speedy recovery."
County Human Resources Director Chris Heroux provided this statement about the county's outbreak on Tuesday:
"The National Guard conducted employee testing at the county jail last Thursday. We were surprised to learn that 10 tests came back positive. The state will be conducting further testing at the jail at a date yet to be determined.
"The unaffected staff are doing a great job covering any extra shifts, and remain diligent maintaining appropriate COVID protocols (screening upon entry to the building, wearing masks while on duty, social distancing when possible, etc).
"Out of an overabundance of caution, the Board of Commissioners decided to close the Administrative Building to visitors. All offices remain open for business."