Bath city councilors unanimously adopted a citywide mask mandate for indoor public spaces on Wednesday. The new rule will go into effect on Monday, Jan. 24. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Bath city councilors followed the lead of Portland, Brunswick, Freeport and South Portland on Wednesday by unanimously approving a 60-day citywide mask mandate for indoor public spaces to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The new rule, which goes into effect Monday, Jan. 24, requires everyone age 2 and older wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in public spaces such as stores, public transportation and restaurants except, when people are actively eating and drinking in an “isolated location such as a table or booth” away from others, regardless of vaccination status. People need to put their mask on when they’re finished eating or drinking and when they move from their table or booth.

“None of us believe a light switch is going to stop the pandemic,” said Councilor Roo Dunn. “If the inconvenience this may bring means one more child remains in school and their parents can go to work, we’ve been successful. If one more of you here wears a mask, that could mean one more grandparent lives to spend Easter or Passover with that small child.”

Councilors agreed to drop the $500 fine attached to disobeying the mandate. The mandate does, however, still authorize the city’s health official and the Bath police department to help enforce the rule if someone refuses to wear a mask or leave a space.

Exceptions to the rule include private homes, offices spaces where people are separated from the public, churches or other houses of worship, and public schools, as they remain under the authority of Regional School Unit 1. Masks are currently required indoors at all RSU 1 schools.

Other exceptions include people under the age of 2 and those with breathing problems or a medical condition that’s worsened by a face mask, as well as sections of gyms, theaters and athletic arenas where those exercising or performing have been fully vaccinated and remain physically separated from others, or there’s a ventilation system or barrier between them and the public, according to the proposed rule. People also don’t have to wear a face mask when they’re alone in a building.

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The emergency mandate lasts for 60 days, but councilors agreed they’ll monitor the pandemic and the mandate’s efficacy after 30 days and are open to altering, dropping, or renewing the mandate.

Russ Long of Bath advocated for the mask mandate because he said it’ll help protect his son who has Type 1 diabetes and cannot get vaccinated.

“There are vulnerable people in our society that we have to protect,” said Long. “When (the COVID-19 pandemic) started, I looked at it and said, ‘A million people are going to die in this country.’ I don’t like being right about that but we’re fast approaching that figure. Over 800,000 Americans in this country are dead and we’re digging in our heels like adolescents.”

Arrowsic resident Kevin Bachman, whose wife owns Café Crème, said he believes a mask mandate will only stir up anger in the city from those who don’t want to wear a mask, which employees will then have to deal with.

“If you believe in masks, you believe in masks, and if you don’t believe in them, you don’t – that’s what it comes down to and that’s fine,” said Bachman. “The people who wear masks will continue to wear masks and those who don’t, aren’t going to wear them mandated or not.”

Robert Whisenant, owner of Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria on Front Street, said he’s concerned his young employees will have to enforce the mandate with customers who refuse to wear a mask in the restaurant.

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“These are kids trying to enforce adults – it doesn’t work and I can’t be there all the time,” said Whisenant. “This is going to force customers not to shop in Bath. They’ll go to Topsham, Woolwich or Wiscasset. This is a great pat-yourself-on-the-back motion here, but we have BIW people coming into this town and leaving. We’re not saving anybody with this in this one little town.”

Councilor Julie Ambrosino said she understands why businesses may be against the mandate and doesn’t want anyone to suffer or lose business but spoke of a family member who couldn’t get immediate medical care they needed because the hospital was overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

“I don’t want anyone to lose anything they have, and we’ve all lost something,” said Ambrosino. “Let’s all remember what our end goal is, and that’s to be healthy and safe again and get past this somehow in 2022.”

Bath’s new rule came on the heels of Freeport enacting their own mask mandates for indoor public spaces. Portland was the first community in Maine to create a citywide mask mandate earlier this month, followed closely by Brunswick. South Portland could be next later this week.

All the mask mandates have the same rules for indoor spaces like stores and restaurants, though some differ when it comes to enforcing the rule and its duration. Bath’s, for instance, lasts 60 days whereas the other communities’ mandates last 30 days.

Bath also dropped the potential $500 fine for anyone who doesn’t comply with the mandate whereas both Brunswick and Portland kept fines for violations.

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Councilor Elizabeth Dingley informally floated the idea of an indoor mask mandate for Bath during the council’s Jan. 5 meeting because, “We have a large senior population in Bath who are extremely vulnerable to this virus and it’s not safe.”

Dingley’s proposal came minutes after a presentation by Mid Coast Hospital President and CEO Lois Skillings about how many people the hospital is treating.

Councilor Phyllis Bailey told councilors how, when she had to go to Mid Coast Hospital for a few hours to be treated for something recently, she was attended to in the hall because the facility didn’t have a room or bed for her.

“Right now, there’s a whole cohort of people who are being denied medical care for things like cancer – I have a loved one who’s experiencing that – because they can’t be accommodated because the hospital is so full of people who have COVID-19,” said Bailey.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick is currently treating 16 inpatients for COVID-19. Of those, 5 are in the ICU and 2 are on a ventilator, according to hospital spokesperson Judy Kelsh. Since March 2020, Mid Coast Hospital has treated 432 inpatients for COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, 3,985 people have tested positive through Mid Coast Hospital, though 1,695 of those positives have come since Dec. 1, 2021, according to Kelsh.

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Within Bath alone, 1,060 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Jan. 16, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since March 2020, 3,361 Sagadahoc County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 24 have died as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 164,324 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 1,691 have died as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.

Nationwide, 67,903,759 people have tested positive and 853,230 have died since the pandemic began as of Thursday, according to the U.S. CDC.

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