John Merrill talks about mask wearing requirements during an interview in his shop, Merrill’s Bookshop, Tuesday in downtown Hallowell. Since he was able to reopen on June 1 he’s required masks to be worn in the store. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — City businesses will be asked to enforce mask-wearing guidelines similar to those outlined in larger municipalities under a new order from city officials.

City officials signed an order around 11 a.m. Monday that mimics a July 8 order from Gov. Janet Mills that ordered larger municipalities to enforce face-covering orders. The order — which went into effect immediately — requires businesses to enforce the order in “retail stores, grocery stores, health care facilities, exercise facilities, restaurants and dining facilities, outdoor bars, pubs, public transportation providers including ride sharing, and lodging establishments.”

The requirement also includes “waiting areas and take-out service for restaurants and pubs, congested areas in the downtown district including parking lots, and any instance where the public typically gathers in a smaller area.”

City Manager Nate Rudy said Tuesday that the city’s focus is more on education, rather than enforcement and punishment. He said businesses are already subject to some guidelines enforced by the state, and enforcement action can come from the relevant state department.

“Our emphasis is on education and information … to people who frequent those businesses,” said Rudy. “I hope that folks who support the police and support the fire department will show that support by wearing a mask when they visit downtown.”

People line the sides of Water Street on Monday to welcome home Hallowell business owner and resident Chris Vallee, who was recently released from the hospital after suffering a number of complications following surgery eight weeks ago to remove his kidney. Photo by Hanna Keene

Hours after the order was put into place Monday, citizens lined the sides of Water Street to welcome home Hallowell business owner and resident Chris Vallee. He had his kidney removed eight weeks ago and was recently released from the hospital after suffering a number of complications.

Hallowell police Chief Scott MacMaster said between 200 and 300 people attended the event, where Vallee was pushed down Water Street in a wheelchair surrounded by his friends and family.

Ann Vallee Lachance, Vallee’s sister who pushed him down Water Street during the parade, said the event was organized within a day of when the family knew Vallee was being discharged. She said Vallee was “blown away” by the show of support.

Lachance said most people at the event who she recognized were wearing masks and anyone who she spoke with encouraged others to wear masks.

“I had to tell people to back off,” she said. “One woman went to try and kiss him and I said ‘you can’t kiss him.'”

Hallowell business owner and resident Chris Vallee is wheeled along Water Street as 200 to 300 people look on Monday. Vallee was recently released from the hospital. Photo by Hanna Keene

In some photos of the event, many people can be seen wearing masks. There were people who turned out, however, including several that can be seen in a photo of Vallee that were not wearing any face coverings and not being socially distant.

Lachance, who is also part of the ownership group at the Quarry Tap Room, was aware of the new order and said it is posted on the host station at the restaurant. She said she was “a little nervous” about backlash about the gathering, but never expected the turnout to be as large as it was, likening it to Old Hallowell Day.

“Our community is so strong and supportive,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to live in such an amazing community.”

MacMaster said city police were focused on pedestrian safety and traffic control during the event, but did work with organizers to make sure social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines were observed. When asked how many people were not wearing masks at the event, MacMaster said “a small percentage” of attendees were unmasked, but if they were not wearing a mask, they were observing from a safe social distance.

In a letter that accompanied the order, Rudy said Hallowell officials “want to do more to ensure public safety” due to its proximity to Augusta, which was included in the Mills order, its status as “a destination for summer tourists,” and its density of senior or assisted living facilities.

The order was recommended by the city’s Board of Health, which comprises three local doctors, Annette Beyea, Scott Schiff-Slater and Sydney Sewall. The board’s recommendation, explained in a letter to Mayor Mark Walker, is that wearing a mask is “the easiest thing people can do to reduce the risk of community health and safety.”

On Tuesday, Patti Burnett was cutting a man’s hair in Dom’s Barber Shop while barber Julie Keithley was preparing to cut another man’s hair. All four were wearing masks. When Burnett was asked if increased enforcement will affect her business, she motioned to a sign on the door that asked customers to wear masks before entering.

“It’s for the good of all,” Burnett said, adding that guidelines for salons and barbershops require masks anyway.

A chalkboard just inside the door of Loyal Biscuit Co. telling customers that masks are required is seen Tuesday in downtown Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

John Merrill, owner of Merrill’s Bookshop at 110 Water St., said the order would not change policy in his store, which requires face coverings to enter. He said he has only turned away one customer for not wearing a mask since his shop reopened on June 1. Merrill said, regardless of guidelines, he would make wearing masks required in his shop.

“I make it very clear that no one gets in (without a mask),” he said Tuesday. “I’m not going to put my other customers at risk.”

Just down Water Street, Loyal Dog Biscuit Co. employee Rachel Theriault said the store has been “pretty strict” with patrons about wearing masks, but has seen a little bit of resistance from some customers who do not wear masks while shopping. As for the new order, Theriault said a change in store policy would have to come from ownership.

Winthrop officials instituted a similar order last month. Town Select Board Chairperson Sarah Fuller said the town made the change because officials believed it did not make sense to have pockets of enforcement. She also said the town has been “dealing with a lot of complaints” about local businesses not enforcing mask-wearing requirements.

Winthrop’s new guidelines state that “individuals must wear face masks or shields in … eating establishments, bars or tasting rooms, lodging operations and accommodations, businesses, buildings, parks, and campgrounds.”

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