Town of Hanover enacts mask mandate, proposes new amendment to rental housing ordinance

by Andrew Sasser | 8/7/20 2:05am

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Although Dartmouth classes are operating remotely this term, some students have returned to Hanover and the Upper Valley. In response to complaints of Dartmouth students in Hanover violating the CDC’s health guidelines, the town of Hanover recently passed a mask ordinance effective Aug. 10. The town is also considering an amendment to the residential house ordinance that will require an outdoors activities permit for gatherings of more than 10 people, as well as the removal of outdoor games from rented properties. 

According to Hanover health officer Michael Hinsley, the town of Hanover has received “repeated” complaints about students not social distancing or wearing masks. He added that while “no one group is perfect” in following guidelines, the “vast majority” of complaints are about “large groups of students.”

“When we go to check in on the large gatherings on the docks in town, we have found a significant number of college-age students, many of whom have Dartmouth parking tags,” Hinsley said.

Hinsley added that while he has observed people in town wearing masks around 50 percent of the time, he has found social distancing, especially among students, to be “spotty at best.” He added that the town of Hanover has passed a mask ordinance as of Monday and that “other measures” meant to discourage large gatherings are currently being considered. 

The ordinance stipulates that all businesses, healthcare facilities and other establishments in Hanover must require their employees and patrons to wear masks, including in any outdoor areas where business is conducted. Members of the public must wear a mask while entering and exiting restaurants but are permitted to remove them for the purpose of consuming food or beverage. Additionally, anyone using public sidewalks, public recreation areas and other public property within the town of Hanover must wear a mask. The mandate “strongly urges” wearing a mask while attending social gatherings but does not require it. 

Anyone who violates the ordinance will be subject to a $100 fine for the first offence, $200 fine for the second offence and $500 for any subsequent offence with the possibility of being summoned to court. 

Hanover considers new measures

According to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin, the Hanover Select Board will consider an amendment to the rental housing ordinance on Aug. 17 in an effort to “manage issues” seen in off-campus housing during the summer. The proposed measures in the amendment include requiring an outdoor activities permit for any gathering larger than 10 people, as well as requiring landlords to remove “outdoor games” like beer pong and cornhole from their properties.

“What we’ve seen this summer is that these outdoor games can be a public health nuisance because they are often at the center of a big gathering of people,” Griffin said. 

Additionally, Griffin mentioned that the town may require landlords to share their tenants' names and contact information for the purpose of “increasing contact tracing.” She emphasized that the town will “rigorously enforce” pre-existing zoning ordinances that limit most households to having no more than three unrelated people in residence to ensure that “adequate social distancing can be achieved.”

Some students currently living in Hanover have expressed approval of the mask ordinance and the new proposed measures.

Elliot Ng ’21 said he thinks the new measures could prevent a wave of infections as students return to the Upper Valley. He added that he finds requirements like the mask mandate to be “pretty reasonable” as an attempt to “preserve normalcy.”

“They’re not restricting us from going outside and meeting people while socially distanced,” Ng said.

Similarly, Kellen Appleton ’20 said he finds the mask mandate to be “prudent” and that he was “surprised” it hadn’t been passed earlier. He added that he hopes that the ordinances may curb “reckless activity” but noted that some students living in town may not be acting “as badly as they seem.”

“I think that there may be some bad perceptions of students living in Hanover because many are very open about living in Hanover right now, but [they] may not be acting any more irresponsibly than they were in the spring,” Appleton said. “However, if these mandates reduce the risk of an outbreak, I support them.”

Students living off campus discuss health measures  

Some students living in Hanover have committed to following local health recommendations. 

Nik Morgan ’23 said she is wearing a mask in public at all times to help “protect the reputation of students.” She also said she is avoiding contact with other students and is getting tested routinely.

Similarly, Latrell Kirkaldie ’18 said he has only gone into town to pick up takeout or to maintain the garden at the Native American House. He added that he wipes down surfaces he touches on a “regular basis” and wears a mask unless he knows he “will not be near another person for an extended period of time.”

Appleton said that members of his household have asked all visitors to come no closer than the edge of their yard and that he has been regularly carrying a mask with him. He added that while he has remained physically distant from others outside his house, he has seen groups of students gathering outside.

“While I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I have regularly seen students playing pong in their garages and driveways and can hear parties from my porch every night,” Appleton said. 

Appleton also said that he was “saddened” and “frustrated” by the actions of some students. He added that he fears the “lack of student responsibility” might reflect poorly on the Dartmouth community.

With regard to the efforts to enforce social distancing and mask guidelines, Hinsley said that Hanover police have focused on “educating” people about COVID-19. Additionally, he mentioned that while education efforts have resulted in some “modification of behaviors,” additional influxes of students into town have made enforcement challenging.

“Every couple of weeks a new wave of students will come to town who are unaware that they can spread the virus,” Hinsley said. “We have to repeat our messages about masks and social distancing.”

Furthermore, although Hinsley said that there have been no “significant” outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, he is worried about the possibility of outbreaks similar to the ones at the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley. He also mentioned that the town of Hanover is in “daily communication” with the College about “communal gatherings of students.”

“While the town generally addresses repeated behavioral problems, we have been able to clearly identify some members of the College,” Hinsley said. “We are communicating these behaviors so the College can take action as necessary.”