The Brunswick Town Council on Thursday will revisit a proposal mandating face coverings in indoor public places to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The proposal’s sponsor, Councilor Kathy Wilson, said time was of the essence.

“I understand the need, the desire for more information and stuff like that,” Wilson said. “I think what we’re forgetting is how fast this is moving, and how many people are getting sick, and how many people are dying.”

Wilson said she is looking to implement the mandate after speaking with older members of the community with health issues, having health issues herself and knowing two vaccinated people who have recently died from COVID-19.

“COVID is not waiting for us to have all of this public hearing stuff,” she said. “I know we got to have it, but I think there is a way to move through this and I’m all for that. Quite frankly, I’m scared, and I’m scared for everyone in town.”

The mandate would be modeled after the one Portland approved Monday, Wilson said, which applies to places like gyms, grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants with an exception for businesses that check for proof of vaccination. Portland’s mandate applies to both employees and customers.

Advertisement

Brunswick councilors could either reject the proposal outright, approve the mandate immediately on an emergency basis or reject the emergency basis and set a public hearing for later this month.

Brunswick businesses interviewed Tuesday reacted to the news with a mix of opinions.

“I’m happy to impose it,” said Leslie Beattie, owner of the Brunswick art store The Mix. “I don’t pretend to be a scientist, I’m an artist. So, I’m looking to people that actually know science and know what they’re doing to make the decisions and then I’ll follow them.”

The Mix hangs a sign asking for people to wear a mask, and strongly encourages masking, although Beattie said she is not willing to get into fights over the topic.

TJ Siatras, owner of Joshua’s Restaurant & Tavern, said that employees and customers are asked to wear masks if they are unvaccinated, although the restaurant does not check vaccination cards.

Under Portland’s mandate, people would be able to temporarily remove face coverings “to participate in the primary purpose of the business, such as eating or drinking.”

Advertisement

“I think that people naturally react to pull away from additional requirements and constraints that are put upon them, whether it be from any local or higher-level government,” said Siatras. “I would certainly expect that it would have an impact on our business in a negative manner. There are people who do not want to wear a mask, both employees and customers, and they have their personal reasons.”

Siatras said that one fear is a mask mandate could drive away employees from the restaurant, an industry that at large is already struggling with the labor shortage.

“I do think that a town ordinance and even a statewide ordinance requiring masking would make a lot of sense,” said Wilcox Wellness and Fitness owner Alison Hopkins. “I think that it helps to even the playing field in terms of expectations within an individual business. It helps to create some degree of consistency in how people are protecting themselves in public places, since going into one public place to the next, that carries over.”

Hopkins said that Wilcox Wellness and Fitness requires masks in the gym at all times and vaccination among employees.

According to Hannaford Supermarket spokesperson Ericka Dodge, as of Tuesday customers are not required to wear masks. Associates are required to wear a mask in substantial or high transmission areas and associates who aren’t fully vaccinated are required to wear a mask regardless of transmission area.

As of Tuesday, all of Maine was classified as a high transmission area.

Advertisement

“Hannaford would comply with any ordinance the Town of Brunswick passes,” Dodge wrote in an email. “Hannaford has been in compliance with all state and local health laws throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so, as circumstances and requirements continue to evolve. We are deeply committed to protecting the health and safety of our associates, customers and communities.”

In October, the Brunswick town council voted 5-3 to reject a similar mask mandate also proposed by Wilson. Brunswick currently requires masks inside all school and municipal-owned or leased buildings.

When asked about the proposal and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, spokesperson Robert Long said the Maine CDC aligns with the U.S. CDC in recommending that people in high transmission areas wear masks in public settings.

“Elected municipal leaders are entrusted with making decisions about how best to align that recommendation with standards and conditions within their communities,” wrote Long in an email.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that COVID-19 cases have reached record highs in the United States, with more than 1.08 million cases reported Monday. The Journal reported that the uptick in cases is in part from a backlog of cases that were not recorded over the holidays.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick was treating 16 inpatients for COVID-19 as of Monday, eight of which were in the intensive care unit and four of which were on ventilators.

Advertisement

As of Tuesday, 148,217 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in total statewide, resulting in 1,556 deaths. In Cumberland County, 28,293 cases had been reported and 274 deaths.

The Maine CDC estimates that 74.9% of Maine’s eligible population has received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC estimates that approximately 86% of Brunswick residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and an informational session will likely be led by Mid Coast-Parkview Health President and CEO Lois Skillings, according to Brunswick Council Chairperson Jim Mason.

Mason said he expects there will be an opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.