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Sharing the roads during COVID-19

A post last week on the social media site Nextdoor told the story of three maskless bicyclists taunting a Harvard resident and her 9-year-old daughter as they walked along Littleton Road simply because they stopped to put their masks on as the cyclists approached. Apart from the disrespectful, mean-spirited behavior described in the post, the incident is a reminder that masks and social distancing are still required in both indoor and outdoor public spaces, including public roads.

On Nov. 6, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring face masks or cloth face coverings be worn by anyone over the age of 5 in all public places, whether indoors or outdoors, even when able to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. That order is still in effect.

Harvard Police Chief Ed Denmark told the Press that anyone walking alone or with a family group should carry a mask with them and put it on when encountering another walker or bicyclist. Bicyclists should wear masks at all times because they could quickly come upon a pedestrian or another cyclist.

Denmark said the police cannot stop an unmasked bicyclist on the grounds that they might ride past someone. But if they see people in close proximity outdoors without masks, they would use the protocol that was authorized by the Harvard Board of Health last May, namely asking violators for identification, showing them a copy of the executive order requiring masks, and asking them to comply, providing a mask if necessary. If violators refuse to comply, police will report them to the Board of Health, which has the discretion to issue a fine of up to $300. Board of Health Chair Sharon McCarthy told the Press the board has not received any reports from the police as of yet.

As for the Littleton Road incident, the resident told the Press she posted her story to Nextdoor to teach her daughter to stand up for herself and call out harassment when it happens. She asked that her name not be used so that the focus of the story would be on that lesson. She added that while the incident was unsettling, she was most upset that it happened in front of a child.

Her post received nearly 100 replies, all of them expressing support for her and her daughter. She said she closed the post after a few days when comments began to characterize bicyclists in a negative way, saying she and her family bike, and they have had many good experiences with courteous cyclists in town.

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