BRUNSWICK — Employees of grocery stores, banks, convenience stores and any indoor, public-serving locations must wear masks or face coverings, starting at 7:30 a.m. Friday, under a new order by the Brunswick Town Council.

The council also debated, but did not approve, a motion requiring the general public to wear face masks or coverings inside public spaces.

It’s uncertain whether any other municipality in Maine has enacted such an order.

The decision, approved unanimously Tuesday, was backed by Kristin Jhamb, a doctor at Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital, who had told the council she was worried that more must be done to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Large stores, such as Hannaford or Walmart, where there are high volumes of people, often moving within 6-feet of one another, are the “biggest vector” of the virus, she said. 

Councilor Dan Ankeles wrote on social media that the decision was also influenced by councilors witnessing “a multitude of unsafe interactions” in stores. 

Many stores have already taken precautions against the virus by installing plexiglass barriers known as “sneeze guards” at the registers, placing markers in lines indicating 6-foot gaps, placing arrows to designate the flow of foot traffic through aisles and allowing a limited number of people inside.

“We have a civic responsibility to our community to keep our citizens safe,” Jhamb said, calling the masks “very easy safeguards” that ultimately can help businesses reopen sooner.

“Hannaford is fully prepared to comply with a town ordinance that would require our associates to wear masks,” spokesperson Eric Blom said in an email. There are masks and face shields available for all employees.

As of last Friday, Walmart employees are required to wear masks or other coverings while at work, the company announced on its website. 

Shaw’s employees also already are required to wear a face covering, whether it is a mask provided by the company or an alternative covering of the employee’s choosing, a representative said Wednesday. 

Councilors agreed it was prudent to make some sort of mandate, but could not agree on how broad that requirement should be. 

Councilor Steve Walker said everyone, employees and the general public included, should have to wear face masks or face coverings when in indoor public spaces.

“We should have been doing it already,” he said. 

Councilor Dan Jenkins agreed, calling it an “all or nothing” issue. 

Others pushed back. 

Councilor James Mason has, in recent weeks, pushed for the tighter restrictions, but said Tuesday he could only support requiring masks for employees, not everyone. He instead suggested the town should strongly encourage the general public to wear masks, but acknowledged that was in some ways a “toothless recommendation.” 

Councilor Toby McGrath raised questions around the feasibility of implementing the new rule. He asked if the town planned on providing masks or informing people from other towns, like Harpswell, who come to Brunswick to shop. 

The motion to include the general public in the mask requirement ultimately failed, with councilors John Perreault, Christopher Watkinson, Ankeles, Mason and McGrath voting against it. 

The council also voted Tuesday to deem realtors as “essential,” arguing that people moving during the pandemic likely are doing so out of necessity. The town’s original emergency proclamation last month did not consider realtors as essential. This is the third official change the council has made to the order, previously amending it to include essential financial services and increasing the number of children allowed in a daycare classroom from 10 to 12.

There has been significant confusion around which businesses are and are not essential, as the town’s list is more restrictive than the governor’s statewide list. 

The council will meet Monday to discuss either loosening some of the restrictions to allow nonessential businesses to operate if they can do so without contact with the public. This would potentially allow some currently closed businesses to open for curbside, contactless pickup or for shipping products. 

Walker worried that loosening any restrictions might open people up to more risk. 

“I don’t even think we should be having this discussion right now,” he said.

Others though, said it was important to make allowances for local businesses wherever possible. 

“These businesses out there are taking a beating,” Perreault said. “They’re getting killed.” 

“Some of these businesses are going to fail” if the council doesn’t act, Councilor Kathy Wilson agreed. 

To further help struggling local businesses, councilors allocated $25,000 in funds from the Cook’s Corner Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to match an anonymous $25,000 donation to the Brunswick Development Corporation’s Pandemic Emergency Loan Fund.

TIFs are a common financing tool used by municipalities to pay for public projects, usually designated for areas of town that are going to see development

The fund, established last month, allocated $100,000 to be dispersed to Brunswick businesses “that have experienced interruption or hardship due to COVID-19,” according to the organization. The loans, available first-come, first-served, are no-interest loans of up to $5,000, for a two-year term and deferred principal payments for 12 months. The money is intended to help supplement other state and federal emergency disaster relief funding.

Sally Costello, director of economic and community development, said the loans were maxed out in just over two days, and there are at least 10 businesses on a waiting list. 

“The demand was incredible,” she said. 


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